Cooking for Partisans and Politicians

Lidia Bastianich

Lidia Bastianich on her cooking show

I enjoy watching cooking shows. And this is odd, because I rarely cook. Nowadays, my idea of a gourmet meal is Camembert and crackers.

I enjoy most all of the TV chefs. I didn’t quite “get” Julia Child until she’d passed on. I used to watch Rachel Ray with my late partner Bob. Mostly these days I enjoy “Lidia” – Lidia Bastianich.

It’s true I do enjoy really good salads, pasta and such (when I don’t have to prepare them myself). What I enjoy most about these famous chefs is their unpretentious, task-oriented attitude. The show isn’t about them. It’s about the food. It’s about quality ingredients. It’s about allowing the ingredients to shine at what they do best.

You don’t notice Lidia wasting your time and mine trying to entice oregano into tasting like cinnamon. You never see leading chefs reaching for a wilted head of cabbage when garden-fresh Romaine is expected.

Politicians and partisans operate more like BBC’s 2003 spoof cooking show Posh Nosh (YouTube link). Here, food and ingredients are the mere backdrop. Here, as in politics, it’s all about the subtext of personal eccentricities and agendas. As in the linked video, it isn’t about learning to use a specialty frying pan called a Paella: it’s about how to impress by pronouncing it.

Wikipedia made this telling observation about the Posh Nosh show:

Simon and Minty prepare various dishes ranging from architect’s fish and chips to bread AND butter pudding, offering snooty and frequently surreal commentary along the way. For instance, they employ words in odd ways in parody of specific culinary terminology, such as “interrogate a lemon”; and their cooked vegetables are not peeled but “embarrassed,” after which they might be “annoyed” instead of boiled. They also frequently insist on ultra-specific, often prohibitively expensive, ingredients–such as Greek currants that you actually have to fly to Greece to buy.

C-SPAN presents us with all of the above posturing through their daily broadcasts of the U.S. Congress.

Think of how many jingoistic code-word phrases surround our daily life in the national community: “family values”, “make the world safe for democracy”, and “Intelligent design” — to name just three.

“Family values”: this sounded like a sentimental effort to preserve the simpler family-centric heritage and traditions of an earlier time – a time, certainly, when women could not even vote, and you might not be able to find employment if you happened to be of a different color or religion. Today, “family values” means a well-funded political drive to deprive American’s largest remaining minority groups of equal access to the fundamental rights endowed by our political process.

“Make the world safe for democracy”: here’s a high-minded slogan invoking stirring images of the United Nations, august deliberation of the evidence, and world peace through negotiation — or, failing that, cooperative member-state intervention. In actuality, this phrase has been used to justify attempts to turn the world’s only remaining superpower into a rogue cop. We intentionally short-circuited the charter of the UN in which we are founding members. The purpose was to unilaterally crush regimes which opposed us, and subvert governments that disagreed with us. Far from selectively combating the deadly real threats posed by terrorism, terrorists and failed states harboring terrorism, this approach focused on the wholesale obliteration of the host territory and its infrastructure. Look at Palestine for an example where we are not directly involved. How many of us seriously believe these problems will be resolved by our grandchildren’s time?

One of many problems with our draconian and peremptory approach has been the fanning of an intense hatred for the U.S., as well as earning the distrust of our allies. We still believe in negotiating by “showstopper”. The harm to our image will take at least a generation to repair.

“Intelligent design”: here we seemingly have another sentimental effort to preserve tradition, this time with regard to how the awesomely vast and complex Universe could have been created by anything other than a specifically Christian Creator. In fact, “intelligent design” was born as a code-phrase for a concerted fourfold political attack on science, education, political freedom and intelligence itself.

In each instance here, a high-minded idea with stealth premises and popular appeal has been used to instigate destruction or repression of a target group that lived or thought differently from us. “Teach them a lesson; crush the infidel” has been the Al-Qaeda approach. It should not be ours, either globally, or domestically.

“Politician”: how this word has fallen into disrepute! Politicians once were expected to discern and promote the common thread, bring adversaries to the negotiating table, and leave us free to be ourselves. There’s a big difference between a politician and a political leader. Benjamin Franklin was a politician. Idi Amin was a political leader – one of many for whom the consent of the governed was not even required. How many political leaders can you think of who rose far above “my way or the highway?”

Cooks, unlike politicians, thrive on “visible results, visible progress”.

What does all this really have to do with cooking? I can only repeat what I observed in the beginning:

What I enjoy most about these famous chefs is their unpretentious, task-oriented attitude. The show isn’t about them. It’s about the food. It’s about quality ingredients. It’s about allowing the ingredients to shine at what they do best.

We are the “ingredients”. In the long run, the success or failure of our nation is up to us. Instead of futilely trying to force us all into the molds and dictates of others’ conscience and conviction, we should start recognizing that freedom and prosperity are the two necessary sides of the same coin.

Perhaps it’s time we stop trying to force oregano to serve the role of cinnamon simply because we happen to prefer cinnamon in our own pies.

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