The ability to cook has been described by many passionate advocates of good food as one of the best ways to control what you eat. In his amazing book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan delivers the most compelling argument for what he concludes is a slowly dying practice, particularly in the United States. He writes:
“Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals… cooking gives us the opportunity so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and the support of the people we feed.”
His brilliant book describes the importance of cooking as the technology that enabled early humankind to optimise the process of obtaining energy from food. Cooking enabled the streamlining of food production and consumption and with that in place allowed societies to develop and grow. Cooking and eating food together also laid the foundation for the many social interactions we now associate with food and the sharing of food.
The ability to cook food today, many thousands of years after we first learnt the art, frees us from reliance on the many, many processed, convenience and fast foods that surround us. We have not, through so many cycles of history, transcended the need to nourish ourselves with the best food we can find, in fact, it is an increasingly important ambition for the world.
We have access to more food than ever, most of us living in the first world are desensitised by wall after wall of processed produce in the local supermarket, we could eat out mindlessly morning, noon and night, and we throw copious amounts away, but I’m not convinced we are being fed.
Returning to that practice of growing, or buying good whole food, treasuring food, turning food into something tasty to nurture yourself and your family is a process that reconnects us to what we actually eating, makes us mindful of the time it takes to prepare and consume a good meal.
Cooking also simplifies the ingredients we are consuming and allows us to exercise control over the elements we need to decrease in our diet: sugar, salt and the army of artificial ingredients used by the processed food industry to manipulate taste and preserve the shelf life of the food they produce. It makes us understand how real ingredients taste and how to use them together to create flavour, and how to control the nutrients and calories we are putting into our body.
And then of course, there’s the unmistakable emotional connection, the being in the kitchen, the repetition of an act of generations past, the paying forward of the commitment of nourishment from one generation to the next. For me, the pleasure in cooking is one of remembering, I love cooking the food my great grandmother cooked for my grandmother, that my grandmother cooked for my mother, that my mother cooked for me. It is a way to honour their memory, to follow their recipes and tell their stories, to cook them with love for my own children.
As Michael Pollan summarises so well, “Cooking is different, there’s something that draws us to that hearth, and I think some of it has to do with the fact that we all have powerful memories of being cooked for, by our mums, by our dads and our grandparents… that act of generosity and love I think is still in there for most of us, and is very powerful, it goes really deep.”
“We come from a long line of cooks. Each and every one of us is part of a lineal descendance of folks who cooked.”
The Bombay Cook Club is my way of sharing the food history of my native cuisine, and of my family. I’m teaching people how to cook the food of my past, food that is healthy, food that is tasty, food that was first cooked by early civilisations 5,000 years ago and still tastes good.
There is so much value in good, healthy, home cooked Indian food, learning how to use spices that have been used for thousands of years, how to eat lots of vegetables and little meat, how to use the elements of what we eat for their medicinal value. I hope that sharing this with others will enable them to pass it on, and that the cooking skills of my past continue to live on.
Sources: Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, The Penguin Press, New York 2013