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«TITLE PAGE WHAT’S COOKING? Roberta Ann Muir Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the coursework requirements for the degree of Master of ...»

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In Ancient Greece and Rome, food and cooking were closely linked with medicine. It was thought that raw foodstuffs needed to be rendered digestible before they were consumed, “in order to avoid the risk of premature aging, damaging to the health of even the most robust.” This line of thought continued throughout the Middle Ages, where specific cooking techniques were applied to different types of meat to make them more digestible: fatty (moist) meat was roasted to dry it out and lean (dry) meat was boiled to add moisture. By the eighteenth century, a new school of thought had begun. While still subscribing to the concept that “cooking was an aid to digestion”, Jacques-Jean Bruhier, in revising an earlier treatise on cooking, suggested that some foods (such as ripe fruit and oysters) were best eaten raw, and others, that did require cooking, should not be overcooked. Overcooking, he believed, would lead to drying out of the fibres of the food rendering them more difficult to digest and less nourishing. The focus of this new cuisine, nouvelle cuisine or cuisine moderne, was on lightness and allowing the true essence of the food to shine through. This new focus was still considered however, to be in the best interest of digestion and health. From a German perspective in the early nineteenth century, Rumohr saw the focus of cooking as its health-enhancing properties, referring to his three critical elements of cooking (heat, salt and water) as “external digestion aids”. Larousse includes “Chemical changes” which make foods “easier to digest” among the list of changes brought about by cooking, citing as examples the destruction of meat’s collagen, softening of cellulose fibre in vegetables, release of pectin from fruit and swelling of starch.

J. G. Vaughan and C. A. Geissler, The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997; reprint, Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1999), 190.

Innocenzo Mazzini, “Diet and Medicine in the Ancient World,” in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, eds. JeanLouis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, trans. Clarissa Botsford et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 2000), 149.

Jean-Louis Flandrin, “Seasoning, Cooking, and Dietetics in the Late Middle Ages,” in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to

the Present, eds. Jean-Louis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, trans. Clarissa Botsford et al. (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1999; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 2000), 319.

Jean-Louis Flandrin, “From Dietetics to Gastronomy. The Liberation of the Gourmet,” in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to

the Present, eds. Jean-Louis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, trans. Clarissa Botsford et al. (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1999; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 2000), 427.

Rumohr, 65.

Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 ed., s.v. “cooking.” Many foodstuffs, in their natural states, contain abundant nutrients, but not in a form that we can assimilate. In a cookbook of 1739, François Marin said that “The science of the cook today … consists of the breaking down, making digestible, and quintessencing of meats, extracting the nourishing and light juices” so that they can “pass into the blood with less obstruction”. Bode credits the discovery of cooking, especially boiling, with increasing the range of possible foodstuffs, altering previously indigestible foods, so that they could be digested and nourishment derived from them, and increasing “the nutritive value of many other foods”. Food historian Reay Tannahill agrees, explaining that “since heat helps to release protein and carbohydrate as well as break down fibre, cooking increases the nutritive value of many foods and makes edible some that would otherwise be inedible.” Symons says, in terms that are more contemporary: “Cooks provide a mixed diet for their charges”.

–  –  –

The Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (henceforth Encyclopédie) is a collection of 72,000 articles on the arts and sciences by over one hundred contributors. It was published between 1751 and 1772 and, in attempting to classify the learning of the day, it touched on most of the important social and intellectual developments of eighteenth century France. The article “Cuisine” which deals with cooking “in the widest sense” is attributed to the Chevalier de Jaucourt. Jaucourt credits cooking with “many very useful preparations … some … [of which] have a bearing on the conservation of foodstuffs”. Symons, who views cooking as far more than the heating of foodstuffs, says that “we cook even in a heating sense – to make safe, to keep for a later date”.

François Marin, La Suite des Dons de Comus (Paris: la veuve Pissot, 1742), xviii–xxi, quoted in Sean Patrick Earl Takats, “Constructing the Cook,” Repast XVIII, no. 4 (Fall 2002): 4.

Bode, 13.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History, (N.p.: Eyre Methuen, 1973; revised London: Hodder Headline PLC, Review, 2002), 12.

Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking, 20.

The Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL), ed. Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française (ATILF) of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Division of the Humanities, the Division of the Social Sciences, and Electronic Text Services (ETS) of the University of Chicago, [encyclopaedia online]; accessed 21 June 2003; available from http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/efts/ARTFL/projects/encyc/.





Jean-Claude Bonnet, “The Culinary System in the Encyclopédie,” in Food and Drink in History: Selections from the Annales Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, Volume 5, eds. Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, trans. Elborg Forster and Patricia M. Ranum, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1979), 141–142.

Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking, 18.

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One theory is that we first enjoyed food cooked because the cooking simulated ‘prey temperature’. Bode says that: “Although we no longer consume warm, freshly killed meat, we nevertheless consume it at much the same temperature as other carnivore species do.” Also harking back to our primitive past, Harold McGee suggests that the only raw food that comes close to offering the complex sensory experience provided by cooked food is ripe fruit. He proposes that one of primitive man’s reasons for cooking was to transform “blandness into fruitlike richness.” Carson Ritchie, in Food in Civilization, suggests that we are attracted by warm food perhaps because it reminds us of mother’s milk. Two of Larousse’s four changes brought about by cooking apply to the aesthetic qualities of food: appetizing improvements to the external appearance (browning of meat, glazing of vegetables, caramelisation of sugar), and the development of aroma and flavour (by seasoning and reduction). Humans have evolved into creatures with the ability to satisfy not only their needs but also their desires. Margaret Visser says simply: “the actual taste of edible substances which have undergone fiery treatment pleases us.” Bode suggests that one of the reasons we heat food is simply that we prefer the flavour heat imparts to our food, to that of food in its raw state. Katie Stewart (whose career has spaned four decades in the UK and in 2000 was voted Cookery Journalist of the Year by The Guild of Food Writers) describes the philosophy of cooking as “the desire to achieve the most nutritious and savoury result by combining and contrasting textures, tastes, smells and visual appearance”.

–  –  –

Apart from the more practical applications of cooking, there is a ritualistic or symbolic function. Cooking food is seen as a means of transforming it, symbolically as well as physically. Hindu society, with its complex caste system, has many prohibitions on sharing food between castes and eating food that has

–  –  –

Bode, 19.

Harold McGee, The Curious Cook (N.p.: North Point Press, 1990; reprint, London: HarperCollins, 1992), 304.

Carson I. A. Ritchie, Food in Civilization: How History Has Been Affected by Human Tastes (Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1981), 15.

Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 ed., s.v. “cooking.” Margaret Visser, Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 1989), 296.

Bode, 20.

Katie Stewart, Pamela Michael and Maurice Michael, Cooking and Eating (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1975), 9.

prohibitions apply only once it has been cooked. The implication is that subsequent cooking will remove any impurity from food handled by a member of a lower caste. In analysing the old joke that ‘the lobster blushed because it saw the salad dressing’, Visser refers to the civilizing aspect of cooking: “the lobster has undergone the ultimate civilizing transformation in being cooked … But the salad–female, structureless, untamed hussy that she is–remains appallingly cool and raw.” Anthropologist Claude

Lévi-Strauss says that “cooking mark[s] the transition from nature to culture”. Symons adds to this:

“cooking anoints raw materials as ‘food’ … ‘pig’ becomes ‘pork’.” Saunders says that eating puts us at

once in both the natural and cultural world:

As animals … we need to eat, but our social being fills us with a need to transform our food through cooking into something that is as much cultural as natural. By cooking our food, we eat it in a way denied to other animals, thus emphasising … that our place in the order of things is very different to theirs.

In the classical world, cooking was used not just to distinguish humans from animals, but also to distinguish ‘civilised man’ from ‘barbarians’. According to Montanari: “The fact that barbarians did not cook their food, knew nothing about building fires, and ate everything raw … was a commonplace in classical literature.” Early humans met their nutritional needs before the development of cooking. Cooking however added value to food, it turned food into meals, with all of the social facets that can be attached to them. Meals are occasions for lovers, families, friends and community to come together. The sharing of food around a common hearth is often credited with being the beginning of ‘society’, and therefore ‘civilisation’ as we know it, with “the transformation of competitors into a community”, as Fernández-Armesto says.

Catherine Perlès points out that the social impact of cooking would have been more immediately obvious than its nutritional impact. In encouraging communal eating, cooking encouraged the rapid development of other aspects of community, such as division of labour, resulting in “a more complex group Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications, trans. Mark Sainsbury (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), 142.

Margaret Visser, The Way We Are (N.p.: HarperCollins, 1994; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 1996), 49.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology: I, trans. John & Doreen Weightman (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), 164.

Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking, 114.

Saunders, 15.

Massimo Montanari, “Food Systems and Models of Civilization,” in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, eds.

Jean-Louis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, trans. Clarissa Botsford et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 2000), 75.

Fernández-Armesto, 13.

organization.” Saunders says: “cooking is now so much part of our humanity that to taste cooked food … is to taste something so comforting that it may offer solace”. Even in a modern society fond of salads and fresh fruit, foods that are referred to as ‘comfort food’ are usually the hot, often long-cooked, dishes of earlier times: cooked food is comforting. Recently cooking has become a form of recreation for many people who may not ‘need’ to cook, who could just as easily eat food prepared by someone else but who chose to cook because they enjoy it. Cooking has also become a cultural marker far more complex than one that merely distinguishes human from animal. Barbara Santich says that cuisine (which was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a “manner or style of cooking”) is “just as much a medium for expressing culture as is art, literature, newspapers, television, architecture or urban design”, and that “Cuisine can be a reflection of a region’s identity, and … lead the way in developing a community identity.” Cooking has therefore, become something we do for pleasure, and something we do to help distinguish who we are within society; it is a marker of our national, community, and even personal, identity.

Catherine Perlès, “Feeding Strategies in Prehistoric Times,” in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, eds. JeanLouis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, trans. Clarissa Botsford et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; reprint, London: Penguin Books, 2000), 25–26.

Saunders, 61.

Santich, 85.

–  –  –

So it is established that cooking is transformative, and that we transform our food through cooking in order to achieve a number of specific outcomes: to make our food more edible, nutritious and appetising;

to preserve it; and to set it apart as civilised and mark it as belonging to our society. The question however is whether we always need to apply heat to food in order to achieve these outcomes. If we can achieve these outcomes by food preparation techniques that do not involve heat, I propose that those techniques are ‘cooking’ and that we have in fact ‘cooked’.

–  –  –

Symons points out that making otherwise inedible foods edible refers to “not just heating food:



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