Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve our Problems and What We Can Do About It, makes for interesting pandemic reading. Pressure Cooker was published in 2010, and the paperback version will be coming out later this year. 

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Cover shot for Pressure Cooker.

Over the past few years, there is a movement to encourage people to eat more fresh, local food. Along with this there is also a movement for people to do more cooking at home. In many ways, the Covid-19 outbreak has heightened this. Just think of how many of your friends are posting pictures homemade sourdough bread.

Pressure Cooker demonstrates that this approach is often simply, a by-product of privilege. The people behind the movements have the social, financial, and familial stability that allows them to plan and enjoy healthy food.

This, in many ways though, highlights what Pressure Cooker is seeking to address. People are cooking more, because they are forced to stay home. Yet, even in times of pandemic, many people are forced to be out of the home. Many are facing serious financial crises. 

On top of this, as the Black Lives Matter protests remind us, many are facing an unfair playing field to start with. Covid-19 is throwing many of these issues into a new and sharp relief. That is what makes this such a timely book.

It is worth noting that this book is American. While Canadian support systems tend to be difficult to navigate, U.S. systems are even more so. Reading this book, it appears that many American social support programs work in opposition to each other.

These programs often consume a great deal of the recipients time. Such programs are often judgmental as well. Is you child growing fast enough? Does your child weigh enough(or too much)?

Home Cooking is often Pressure Cooking

Pressure Cooker is the result of in-depth interactions with 168 women and their families. The appendix of the book contains a thorough rendering of the methodology used. Participants are from a variety of social, racial, familial, and financial strata. The majority of participants are from low-income families. Even in the low-income families there is a broad range of income. 

The presence of the stories of those in middle to upper-middle class income families help to illustrate some of the systemic inequities.

From these the authors focus on 9 specific families to represent the participants.  The authors, Bowen, Brenton, and Elliot, embed themselves with these families. They are not simply doing interviews. They are also becoming part of important social markers in the lives of the families. 

This moves the book out of the realm of theory, and into the world of real decisions. Here we see families having to decide between groceries and the electric bill. We see families whose ability to shop is limited by their access to transportation.  We see women struggling because the men in their lives do not pull their weight in the relationship. In many cases this disparity is not only related to household chores, but also to financial contributions. In almost all cases, time pressures 

Social Pressures on Home Cooking

While for those in most need of help, the government and charitable systems can often be more of a hindrance, other problems also arise.

Many of the women in the book express a desire to focus on healthy eating. However, the question arises, what is healthy eating? Divergent opinions and overwhelming amounts of information, make healthy choices difficult. Again, we are back at the time question. 

Piling on top of health issues are cultural issues. Several women interviewed are trying to uphold traditions brought with them when they came to the U.S. The constant bombardment of commercials makes it difficult for their children to appreciate these traditions. As, well, they are often looked down on for throwing big parties. Poor people should not be allowed to celebrate.

Overhanging all of these issues, is the question of food moralism. This is not a new question. As long as there has been food there has been food moralism. However, it is one more form of pressure for those women already under a lot of pressure. 

Potential Solutions

The final chapter encourages the reader to move outside the kitchen in the way they think about meals. In other words, it is not simply about how we marshal our food resources. It is about taking some of the moral freight off of the family dinner. Family walks, family games, family projects, all of these can help build stronger family relationships. 

One suggestion they make that will require a new look because of Covid-19 is the idea of the community dinner. How do we encourage the gathering of large crowds while maintaining safety? Personally I’m curious to see what will happen with fall suppers this year. 

Finally, the book argues, we need to change our food systems. We need to make it easier for people to access healthy food. We need to make food affordable for everyone. This also involves making sure those that produce our food are compensated properly. 

Pressure Cooker explores the complex systems and narratives around the food we eat and the way we gather around food. Simply telling people to eat better, eat fresh, or eat local will not solve the issues raised in this book. However, the authors do provide ways forward to make the world of cooking and eating better for all.

Published by Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food. View more posts

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