“Animals eat to satisfy their hunger, to stay alive. As people we don’t have to do that. I mean we don’t only have to do that. We can make eating into an experience. We don’t have to worry about where the next meal will come from––far from it! If anything, we eat too much. There’s food all around. The question is how to pick and choose––to know what’s really good…”
—Martha Rosler, “A Budding Gourmet” in Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (1978)
When 6pm comes on the weekdays eating dinner is my main priority. At 6:30pm I’ll eat just about anything; donuts, pizza, an apple, a handful of nuts, toast, etc. I wouldn’t define any of these produced, packaged, or low-maintenance foods dinner, however they often are. Ideally, I wouldn’t consume the tons of convenient crap that I do most days. In a perfect world I would pack a big lunch each night that includes plenty of my favorite healthy snacks to keep me going throughout the day. Inevitably, each night when the time comes to pack my lunch for the next day I talk myself out of it, believing halfheartedly that I will get up fifteen minutes earlier prepare my lunch. Morning comes and I hastily eat a piece of fruit, throw a few snacks in my bag, and drink more than my fair share of coffee. After some trial and error (not exactly Eric Zimmerman’s process of “iterative design” in his article “Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process”) this seems to be the minimal amount of substance I need to make it through the day and home for dinner. At 6:30pm my emotions are mixed with a fervent desire for something more, something cooked, prepared, hot—a meal.
Like the emergency kit I keep in my car stocked with essentials like duct tape, a flash light, a tarp, pack of cards, water, and granola bars my fridge and kitchen pantry seem overwhelmingly sparse if I haven’t made it to the grocery store. Frankly, some nights the speed and convenience of take-out seems like the best option in a dinner crisis, but not for my wallet or wellbeing.
However, if my partner and I plan one day of the week just right we can solve most of our problems at once. This is why the slow cooker is my weapon of choice. In my house everyone pitches in. We I divide all household chores regardless of gender, but our dinner troubles arise when we both work late (4-5 nights a week) and can’t seem to get it together. This might be a good place to note that we each have complimentary approaches to quite our stomaches after a long day. He takes the fast approach and orders takeout, while I plan my slow approach.
Leftovers, canned goods, and produce on the brink of annihilation magically commune in the slow cooker’s large stoneware pot at least once a week at my house. My West Bend® Crockery Cooker™ has four settings (off, keep warm, low, and high) to keep things simple. The high setting slowly cooks a meal in three hours whereas the low setting cooks a meal in six to eight. This essential feature not only prepares food while I’m sleeping or at work, but also makes even the most humble ingredients taste really good. A small orange light below the knob glows when the pot is turned on illuminating the pot’s stainless steel shell. The glass lid allows the impatient chef to repeatedly peer into the pot without opening the lid and releasing steam. A small amount of water vapor is allowed to escape through a small hole on top of the lid. My slow cooker is capable of making up to five quarts of food. If I make more than I would like to eat for the week into the freezer it goes.
Three years ago I won this cauldron of wonder on Christmas during my family’s white elephant party. My younger brother was thrilled to trade me it for a twenty-dollar Starbucks gift card (the hot ticket item that year). Unknown to me at the time, the slow cooker was a gift that my grandparents had bought. They are life-long farmers who started out growing corn in California, then cranberries in Oregon, and finally walnuts in a town called Escalon near Yosemite. I’m not sure if their distaste for wasted food comes from the hardships of farming and appreciation of fresh locally grown food, but they firmly believe that every family should own a slow cooker to avoid waste.
If you search on Amazon you can find many different slow cookers that range in size, shape, and color. You will encounter the Crock-Pot® perhaps the most famed brand of slow cookers of all, as well as new designs for more efficient cookers and various slow cooker accessories. With the invention of the slow cooker also came the need for slow cooker articles in magazines, cookbooks ,and how-to videos, like “Pillsbury Fast Slow Cooker Cookbook” (2009) by Pillsbury Company, “The French Slow Cooker” (2012) by Michele Scicolone, and the online article “Our Best Slow-Cooker Recipes” from http://www.marthastewart.com.
As a precursor to the slow cooker craze we can consider pioneering cookbooks, cooking shows, and perhaps even feminsit artists appropriation of the kitchen during the 1970s.
In the video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) the stage resembles a low budge knock-off of the television program The French Chef. In a little over six minutes American video and performance artist Martha Rosler presents a series of kitchen utensils in alphabetical order. Unlike Julia Child’s legendary demonstrations, Rosler’s uncanny performance of kitchen tools is a semiotic marathon of sorts where the similitude of order is inverted as Rosler violently demonstrates each object highlighting its allegiance to domestic subjugation. In the image to the left we can see four stills from Semiotics of the Kitchen alongside her edited script for the performance. One of my favorite edits is how she replaced the word “hotpad” with “hamber press.” Rosler’s feminist artworks demonstrate her profound understanding of the transmitting powers of different media. In A Budding Gourmet (1974) Rosler mailed a series of postcards that one-by-one told a fictional narrative of an aspiring gourmet’s relationship to food. Using Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about hot and cold media Rosler experiments with different mediums, while thematically deploying feminist strategies. I like weighing the pros and cons of slow and fast, hot and cold here. Rosler explores both within media and food that I find really fascinating.
“[Y]ou have to educate yourself, too, to want to be educated. You have to spend some time thinking about it. You can’t just sit in front of the TV drinking beer or something all the time. You have to actively seek out information…”²
I’m not sure if slow cooking is the best strategy for achieving a healthy lifestyle while in grad school; however if I continue thinking, testing, and analyzing perhaps I can come up with a better plan and eventually tastier (more diverse) food!
¹Martha Rosler, “A Budding Gourmet” in Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (New York: Printed Matter Inc., 1978), 1.
² Martha Rosler, “A Budding Gourmet” in Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (New York: Printed Matter Inc., 1978), 3.