Thursday, 8 January 2009

reflections from the kitchen

i'm not much of a cook. in fact, i really don't enjoy cooking at all. it's something i only do because i have to, so i minimise the amount of time i spend in the kitchen by trying to prepare simple dishes. basically, if it takes more than half an hour to prepare, i'm just not interested. i do a lot of roasts, steaks, burgers. when i'm feeling more energetic, i'll do nachos, pizzas and pie. but that's about it.

being off work this week, i don't know what got over me, but i decided to make some baigan bharta today. this really is one of the most basic of indian dishes, certainly not considered to be at the higher end of indian cuisine, but one that i do like. so i set about doing it, preparing the eggplants, peeling them, getting masses of onions ready, processing the chillies etc, then cleaning and washing up. all in all, i'd say it took me more than hour to get it all done. now i appreciate that i'm a bit slow due lack of practice, but i just can't imagine anyone getting this dish ready in less than 40 minutes.

as i say, it's a basic dish, and if you were eating a proper indian meal, you'd have to cook the chapatis (another 20-30 minutes) as well as daal or a meat curry to go with it. a decent indian meal would take, i would think, around 70-90 minutes to put on the table. and there would be many families who require curries and chapatis for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.

which is not so much a problem in india, when you have the maid to come in and peel & cut the onions, and grind all the other masalas, knead the dough and basically have everything ready for you. and/or it's likely that you live in an extended family situation, so there are several women working together to make life a little easier.

but when they get here to nz, servants don't come so cheap (which is a good thing, i know). and you're not likely to be living with your extended family. but the expectations on women is to provide the same levels of cuisine as they would if they had been living in india. to do any less gets you labelled as a bad wife and mother, with the attendant stress and negativity. often these women will be working as well, which means that they're getting up at 5am and not getting to bed til late, just to fit everything in.

of course not all women are in this situation. but enough of them are that it makes me really angry. cultural adaptation is a difficult thing. i'm a supporter of cultural diversity, certainly not any fan of the assimilation model. i'm definitely one who hates cultural imperialism and any notion that all things western are wonderful. many are, many aren't. same goes for other all other cultures. but what i hate is when the environment that supported a certain lifestyle no longer exists, yet the expectations on women remain the same. it's leading to considerable hardship for many women.


Cat said...

Just curious - is there any research that you're aware of to back up what you're saying? I'd be interested to hear about what happens when families with those kind of cultural traditions come to a country where the environment is different..

stargazer said...

not that i'm aware of, no. this is just based on my own experiences and as i say, not everyone fits into the pattern i describe. but for the ones that do, it's a pretty harsh life. and some of them are happy to live like that, in fact proud of their ability to cope with the workload and to fulfil the role they they believe is theirs. others just struggle through it feeling exhausted all the time and some try to leave.