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Jerusha Klemperer Headshot

Preserving the Dying Art of Cooking (and Other Things I Do Because I Know in My Heart They're Important)

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Just because something is dying, does that mean it's worth saving? I was raised by antique book dealers, chronic flea marketers. It's in my bones to hold onto the past. In this way I was an old woman before I turned 20, mourning the loss of old traditions and razed buildings; weeping for the disappearance of community storytelling circles, paper desk calendars and Polaroid cameras. But Google calendars and digital calendars work great -- have we really lost anything at all?

Let's take home cooking. Cathy Erway, on her delightful blog Not Eating Out in New York, got me thinking about this when she posted Reason #33 (to n.e.o.i.n.y) a few weeks ago: "To Preserve a Dying Art." For me, that is reason enough. I don't want to see a world without home cooks any more than I want to see a world without hand-knit sweaters or handcrafted furniture.

Cooking for ourselves is something people did for hundreds and hundreds of years and now we don't do it. The loss of this in our culture strikes me as profound. I don't have stats to show you about why it's a loss, why it's not the same to buy prepared foods from the fancy grocer counter and plate it up as your own. I just know that cooking connects me to my food; that it is, for me, a form of grounding meditation (and a damn fine time to drink a glass of wine); that it saves me money on my lunch each day; that serving it to people connects me to them, is an expression of my affection for them; that talking with dinner guests about how I made the food and where I got the ingredients engages us all.

[n.b. as a side note: I'm cheered by Jane and Michael Stern's rebuttal to the disappearance of American food culture, and I agree with their assertion that "traditions evolve." I like evolution, just not disappearance (which is why, I suppose, I am still hopeful for the continuation of the human species, in spite of our rank stupidity)].

One more example is disappearing plants and animals (let's call it biodiversity). Should I care that there were once 14,000 varieties of apple and now I can only see about 6-10 at a farmers market, and 2-3 at a super market? I do. I can give you the ecological reason I care, and I can give you the reasons centered around taste but more simply: monoculture scares me. On an intuitive level, I like diversity.

So then, if something feels wrong in my gut, if I can intuit that it is no good, how important is it to have facts and figures to confirm that?

A good example: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Signing onto a recent campaign against Monsanto last week got me thinking about this. The European Union has banned them, the US hasn't. Why? Well, it's complicated, but let's say the simple reason is that the US says that there is no definitive evidence yet that genetically engineered foods are bad for you. For me, as an individual, it is enough that they freak me out (putting aside the dire environmental impacts for one moment). I don't want people splicing fish genes with tomato genes and then trying to feed it to me. Call me crazy.

Another good example: pesticides. I don't want 'em. And while I can't point yet to definitive studies that indicate they will for sure kill me, I'm ooked out enough to say "no thanks."

Is this the same part of me that clings to the past? That tries to preserve old traditions simply because they're old? I know that the pro GMOers will try to paint me as anti-science, and I re-buff that. But I don't have any hard facts to back that self-assertion up. Ha.