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Reblogged:False 'Moral-Practical' Dichotomy Injures Chef

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"Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all -- and why?" -- Ayn Rand

In an article titled "In Defence of Garlic in a Jar" at the Walrus, Gabrielle Drolet relates how she nearly allowed an increasingly common sort of puritanical snobbery to ruin cooking for her:
I tried to find some in a jar, but I had to make do with this image, instead. (Image by Home Cooking Secrets, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
One afternoon, I was making a stir-fry in the small kitchen of a house where I lived. As vegetables sputtered in hot oil on the stove, I remember one of my roommates coming downstairs and poking her head into the kitchen.

"What smells so good?" She smiled.

"Probably the garlic," I answered, stirring the bright contents of the pan.

I recall her eyeing the mess I'd made on the counter -- discarded pieces of carrot and onion, spices spilled from plastic bags -- and stopping when she saw the little jar. A spoon lay beside it, still slick with preservative oil.

"You use the pre-minced stuff?"

"Yeah," I said.

She wrinkled her nose and receded. I could tell I'd done something unsavoury. [bold added]
Let that last sentence sink in, but not without re-reading its context: Drolet's housemate started off complimenting the smell of her cooking -- and then made a show of recoiling in horror ... at the presence of a garlic jar.

What is going on here?

Yes, we have someone still young and eager to learn how to cook. This alone could be as simple as someone who hasn't yet learned to view unsolicited and insulting "advice" with a jaundiced eye, but it's worse than that, as we quickly see.

Drolet goes on:
I'd been in the habit of buying jarred garlic -- the kind that comes minced and suspended in oil -- because it was easy to use. I was still getting accustomed to the patience and time that cooking required, and the jarred stuff seemed like a no-brainer: a way to save a few minutes. But, after that day, I stopped buying it. I'm not sure I even finished that container -- it likely sat half-empty in the fridge for the rest of the semester. As I started to pride myself on my cooking, I also became hyperaware of wanting to do things the right way, and I noticed all the recipes and cooking shows I followed only ever used fresh ingredients.

Online, people affirmed my new belief. They joked that those who use jarred garlic can't cook. "What if you met your soul mate, but then found out they cook with pre-minced garlic in a jar," one tweet said. Media outlets published article after article condemning the stuff. An old quote by the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain [Who struck me as self-congratulatory and sanctimonious before I read this. -- ed] seemed to resurface every few months. "Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in screwtop jars," he had written in his book Kitchen Confidential, first published in 2000. "Too lazy to peel fresh? You don't deserve to eat garlic."

This was the first of many haughty ideas I'd hear about cooking and how selective we should be with our food. Who would buy a bottle of lemon juice when you could buy fresh lemons?... [bold added]
Why all the smugness around cooking techniques? And why don't more people call out stupidity like moralizing about whether someone chops garlic or not?

Why draw the line there? Why just buy fresh lemons when you can grow them yourself? Why not grow every damned ingredient you use, rather than lazily and boorishly purchasing them ready-grown at the store?

(At least part of the answer lies in the common, religion-derived idea that rules come down from on high, are promulgated by authorities, and should never be questioned.)

This is not just me ranting: Look at what can happen when someone just goes along with the spewings of the likes of Bourdain:
Often, the wrong choice is the easier (read: more accessible) one -- and making it is a fatal flaw. These aren't things to try to avoid when you can. They're things you should never do, even though many of us don't have a choice. This lack of nuance is what made me believe using accessibility tools might make me a bad cook, pushing me to hurt myself even when cooking alone.

None of this is intentional. People aren't thinking about disabled cooks when they turn their noses up at pre-minced garlic or pre-ground pepper or whatever else. That's part of the problem, though: dismissing ingredients and disparaging anyone who uses them means not thinking of who, exactly, that might be. In reality, it doesn't take much critical thinking to get there.

Who needs to use a quicker, less-labour-intensive method in the kitchen? Maybe it's someone short on time. Maybe it's someone who can't afford to keep topping up the fresh stuff before it goes bad. Maybe it's someone with mobility issues or chronic pain, or it's a neurodivergent person who struggles with long, multistep tasks. Maybe it's someone who loves fresh garlic but is, for whatever reason, not able to chop it themselves. [bold added]
Yes. This person did the "right" thing to the point that she harmed herself. Holy moral-practical dichotomy, Batman!

Whatever the cultural explanation for all the petty moralizing around food and cooking, this is a perfect illustration of the need to hold context (or, to use Drolet's term, nuance) -- which includes one's purpose -- when learning, evaluating, or applying a rule of any kind, including a moral rule.

Avoid garlic in a jar at all costs? Really?

I like Drolet's thinking, but wish she hadn't stopped with "ableism:" this intrinsicist approach can harm anyone, taken far enough. She nailed it more than she realized when she said: None of this is intentional. People aren't thinking...

I ran across this piece when my daughter became interested enough in cooking to sometimes help me in the kitchen, and it really made me think. How can I help her spot the kind of person who will happily issue marching orders to anyone who will listen? How can I help her see that the right way to cook pertains to why she is cooking and should account for her circumstances at the moment?

For example: Why the hell should I forgo garlic altogether just because I almost always have a more important way to spend my time than mincing garlic?

A major part of this story is the role of social pressure. Nobody knows everything, and has to gain most of one's knowledge from other people. But that fact does not relieve one of the selfish responsibility to evaluate a claim to knowledge for oneself, and to take context into account when attempting to apply it.

There is no way to be able to do that for another person, but one can be careful to emulate the proper approaches to knowledge and application. I try to explain why something is right when I teach my children things or show them how to do something.

I sometimes mention common mistakes. A big kind of mistake this story can help illustrate is placing the approval of others above one's own judgement. But even teaching that can be difficult when seemingly everyone is saying the same kind of dumb thing.

Maybe that's the moral here.

At least I now know, and for that I am grateful to Gabrielle Drolet.

-- CAV

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