About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, October 06, 2008
Eating Between The Lines
Book Review

The cover really says it all with juxtaposed images of plastic and high end cutlery, along with the sub-title, Food & Equality In Australia. Rebecca Huntley's new book is a panoramic snapshot of the eating habits and customs of today's Australia. She's diced and julienned her way through the social strata, to reveal complex issues regarding the way we obtain, cook and eat food, including some, at times, uncomfortable insights along the way.

Huntley's background is as a writer and social researcher and meticulous, documented research is the hallmark of this book, but it's not used to bog the reader down in detail, rather, it simply forms part of the narrative that carries you along with it, though there are times when it's necessary to pause and reflect upon certain passages.

It is not a book making grand statements, but allows you to reach your own conclusions by carefully showing the reader, through a careful combination of interview, research and observation, how the issues raised pertain to Australians in general, whether you are a welfare mum, a male weekend cook, harried housewife or just plain ultra rich.

Some of the saddest moments come when reading about indigenous Australians and how their health has suffered by adopting the worst parts of the white man's diet and mentions the suggestion from health experts that bush tucker may be the way to solve the nutritionally caused crisis in diabetes, kidney and heart disease, but Huntley doesn't fall for such easy answers and lists other more constructive ways to improve their diet, for that genie long ago slipped the lamp and no amount of well intentioned hand wringing is ever going to get it back in.

Some feminism creeps into one chapter with the saucy title, Sex in the Kitchen -- not about Fatal Attraction style steamy shenanigans on the kitchen sink followed by a rabbit dinner, but as Huntley explains is more 'an attempt to understand why men cook; or more accurately, why they don't.' As one of those apparently rare men who not only cooks for pleasure, but at times just to get food on the table, I thought it telling that quite a few of the participants in a men's cooking class were there as a result of women sending them. Why weren't these women teaching their menfolk how to cook themselves?

Paradoxically, for me, the answer may lay in men's sheds.

Just as men have their special place to potter about, women do too, it's the kitchen, the woman's equivalent of a man's shed and when we men are invited in to cook, it's to the sight of the woman firmly holding open the back door and pointing straight at the barbecue. If we are allowed into the kitchen proper, it's to chop an onion or some other basic task, then told to skedaddle. In two marriages, I've learned that a kitchen is not a safe place to be at the same time as your wife. We also have to deal with subtle backhanded put downs of our efforts, such as the common women's lament...'I like him cooking, but it's just not worth it. He uses every single pot, pan and dish that he can find.' Even I hear this, despite also doing the washing up!

While I found myself arguing with the occasional premise, this is a book which outlines Australian food culture and at times, forces you to think about the issues. There isn't any preachy self-serving manner to be found anywhere, it's more along the lines of the late Professor Julius Sumner Miller who always questioned, 'why is it so?'

Is perhaps the reason that 4 Ingredients is the best selling cookbook in Australia tied up to the statistic that 35% of women in a 1990 study actually disliked cooking? What are Sydneysiders going to do for fresh food when the market gardens which supply some 90% of their perishable vegetables are all but forced out of the Sydney basin in the battle between cheap, fresh food and cheap housing? Why is it cheap fats feature heavily in the diets of the poor and are vilified for causing a raft of health complications, yet other fats are in the process of being rehabilitated by the well off, whom are paying a fortune for goose fat, extra virgin olive oil and especially imported butters and cream?

Huntley comes across as someone who has a deep appreciation of food and understands its role as a binding force in society, as well as the politics involved it its production, distribution and ultimately, consumption. There are some hard truths in the text for those who care to look. It is a very worthy, timely and well written addition to the class of books about food and culture.

Eating Between the Lines
by Rebecca Huntley

Published by Black Inc.
email: enquiries@blackincbooks.com
website: http://www.blackincbooks.com/
  posted at 7:52 am

At 4:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review, Neil. The ABC radio program Life Matters interviewed the author recently and the audio might still be up on the site. I think there might have been some things she said which I was less in agreement with, but overall it sounded like a very valuable contribution to thinking about eating and society.

At 4:28 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi duncan, thanks. I'm with you, there were parts that were arguable, but in a good way, though it must be said I took exception to the feminist tone in the Sex in the Kitchen chapter. Why didn't she interview men who aren't cooking at all and ask them why? Understanding, not tut-tutting is the key. I was also taken aback when she implicitly downplayed the efforts of a married male lawyer who worked long hours during the week, but liked to cook on the weekend. The problem...he received props for his cooking. Hell, he was cooking wasn't he, isn't that enough in itself?

At 7:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If 4 ingredients can make best-seller, why can't I go one better with Three Ingredients?

Actually, No Ingredients would probably outsell them all.

At 12:13 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Fascinating. Sounds like an interesting treatise on cultural stereotypes (yes, please, applaud the efforts of all men who like to cook), and informative on the issues of the aboriginal diet.

At 8:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This issue of being mocking of male cooking is sort of symptomatic of the multiple issues that drive these sorts of books and lobbying. Too hard to just embrace the readers, consumers, whatever... you have to give your work a special 'edge'. So being rude about male cooks is the easy thing in this case and may well elicit the right chuckles from the main readership. Sigh. It's hard enough to convince so many people that cooking can be easy and enjoyable, so mocking the (often more reluctant) men is just stuffing up the message.

At 11:48 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi kitchen hand, lol!

Hi lydia, Huntley raised some issues that would be pertaining to many countries and cultures. It was funny that she didn't want to applaud the efforts of men who do cook. Mexican friends of mine tell me that their men aren't allowed in the kitchen at all.

Hi duncan, couldn't agree with you more!


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