Why I’m sour about sourdough

Baking your own bread and cooking from scratch doesn’t make you morally superior to someone who lives off ready-made meals, says Laura Marcus.

What’s so great about cooking from scratch? You buy a few raw ingredients, toss them together into an imaginative yet nutritious meal for just a few quid and you think that makes you a better person? It does not.

If you’ve used lockdown to learn how to make your own starter mix so you can bake sourdough, well done you! But it doesn’t make you a better nor even a remotely more interesting person than people who buy their bread.

I’ve told friends many times that I don’t just live on M&S and Waitrose ready meals; I live FOR them! This usually brings a shocked reaction. “Why don’t you cook proper food!?” To which I ask how often they eat out. (This was way before lockdown.) The answer is usually several times a week with a takeout or two thrown in. So why don’t you cook proper food instead of going to a restaurant or getting takeaways? You’re getting someone else to cook your food. So am I.

There’s something deeply sexist about assuming women can and should be able to cook properly and that buying ready-made meals makes you a bad person or a bad mother. Why? What’s so great about cooking from scratch if you’d far rather spend your time doing something else?

I can cook. My generation learned to cook at school in Domestic Science classes. I loved those lessons. I learned how to cut a tomato properly so it doesn’t squash and spill out everywhere – dig the point of the knife in first! I learned how to rub fat into flour till it resembles fine breadcrumbs – shake the bowl periodically so the largest lumps rise to the top. I learned how to make pastry, bake, prepare and cook a roast dinner and a full English breakfast for the husbands we were being trained to take care of. I also learned how to iron a man’s shirt and run a home in the flat where we spent a week in our third year (Year 9). This culminated in preparing a dinner party for the staff.

When I left school and went to college, I spent lots of time dreamily drooling over cookery books and recipes. I cooked a lot because lectures were only a few hours a week and I had time on my hands. Also we had full grants so no need to get a job in term time. I can cook and I love to cook. But right now I just can’t be arsed. I’d much rather get a Charlie Bigham cottage pie and prepared veg than spend hours chopping carrots, peeling potatoes, frying mince, etc.

Yet somehow this is regarded, by some, as morally inferior and just plain wrong. Though it’s fine to eat out or get carry outs. All supermarkets – even cut-price ones such as Aldi – now have a premium range aimed at the eating-out market. A wonderful array of ready-made meals you just stick in the oven or pop into the microwave. Is there a lovelier sound than the ping of the microwave alerting you to a delicious meal that’s taken all of four minutes to prepare? Some supermarket curries are not just as nice as takeouts they’re much better. And no waiting for them to turn up. Also it’s cheaper than a takeaway and you can see what ingredients have been used.

Cookery programmes have never been more popular, but how many people watch them while eating a microwaved TV dinner? How many people buy or receive cookbooks, but never cook a single recipe out of them. You’re not really meant to cook from these books. You’re just meant to look. It’s food porn for the ready-made meals generation.

Cost is usually the other argument aimed at us slovens who can’t be bothered to cook properly. How can you afford it? It’s so much cheaper to buy a stack of chick peas and spend all night peeling or soaking them or whatever the hell it is you do with chick peas. Yet how often have you bought sacks of lentils and stacks of raw vegetables, but ended up throwing them away because they went off before you could be bothered to work out how to cook them? How many herbs and spices long ago reached their sell-by date because you bought them with good intentions but never used them? There’s no waste with ready meals!

If you love cooking, fine. I’m very happy for you. But don’t look down your floured-up noses at those of us for whom the loveliest four words in the English language are: for best results microwave.

Photo credit: Photo by Gianluca Gerardi on Unsplash

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Laura Marcus

Laura Marcus is a freelance journalist and broadcaster.

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