Necessity is the Mother of Invention
My mother asked me to write an article about how I used to hate cooking and why I seem to love it now. Well that just goes to show how much she knows, I never hated cooking. I just never had to do it for myself. Both my mother and father, though they have very different styles, are incredible cooks. Why would I make my mediocre food when I could have meals prepared by seasoned cooks?
The real reason my mom thinks that I hated cooking is because I would rarely help her in the kitchen. I mean can you blame me? I was young and wanted to go sit in my room and listen to music, like any teenager would, and eat all the amazing food without putting forth any effort at all. In reality I did start cooking pretty early (even my mom would have to concede this).The first cooking experience I can remember was in the 6th grade. I was 11 and my friend and I decided that we were going to cook this exotic meal for our parents. It came relatively okay, if I may say so myself, but I did manage to burn the rubber handle on one of the kitchen knives.
After that, in my middle and high school years, I would occasionally be inspired by something and want to cook it. I usually wanted to bake something because I had a major sweet tooth. I personally like to think that I’m a cooker of necessity. When I was younger, I’d cook because I wanted to eat something that I saw. I also used to regularly make breakfast in bed for my mom for Mother’s Day (I was not always successful). My mother is right however that it took awhile for me to cook for myself regularly. I never really needed to because both of my parents always fed me well. Even when I went to college I was only an hour away from home. I would regularly go home and my mom would have food that she had cooked in the freezer for me and I would take that back to school and eat it in the next couple of weeks.
The transformation my mom was referring to was the magical “cooking bug” I caught after I came back from my year abroad in Leeds, England. I mean if you think about it, is it really surprising that I wanted to cook my own food rather than have English food all day every day? Well, my first semester in Leeds I did just that and ate out for just about every meal. As you can imagine that was not sustainable nor very interesting so I ran out of money and got tired of pasties very quickly.
In my second semester not only was I trying to figure out how to better budget my money, but I also became closer with two of my roommates who are huge foodies. They were also very kind and caring. They would often let me eat what they would cook for dinner. Naturally I started to feel guilty about what my mom would call my “mooching.” I soon started to help them cook almost every night. One of the things we all agreed to pay for as a house when we all first moved in was a box of fruit and veg. Cooking with them, I realized that I was not using this 5£ I was spending on these boxes.
I started simple, making stir fry out of whatever I found in the box, then I’d roast vegetables and find things I could add to whatever we got in the box, which changed seasonally. Obviously the more I started cooking and the longer I was away from home, I started to crave the things I would eat at home, namely my mother’s African cuisine and New Mexican food (I drove my roommates crazy talking about green chile). I started to ask my mom for recipes of things as I’d crave them, so naturally she thought I had caught some cooking bug, but really it was born out of necessity, and my necessity skyrocketed when I was alone in a foreign country. Naturally, I started to get excited about food as I was tasting all of the incredible things me and my roommates were able to make ourselves. I was so happy about the fact that I could make all of my own comfort foods myself.
I don’t know if I made this connection in my head before or after studying Grotowski (a Polish theatre director and theorist who came to prominence in the 60’s) but now I can say that cooking is very spiritual experience for me, especially when I’m cooking african food. Grotowski talks about being able to access all of history through various chants and rituals he encountered when he went to Haiti. When I cook I feel like I am accessing all of my history. I feel deeply connected to my ancestors. I stop being myself and I am all of the cooking women who came before me.
Cooking is central to many cultures and Cameroon is no different. I love cooking for others for this reason, I feel grounded and connected to my past and my culture. In African culture you always make enough food not only your family, but for whoever may come by that day whether they be stranger or friend. My mother has always cooked like this and I used to complain about having the same thing day after day, and I chuckle to myself as I now do the same thing. I have listened to and read so much about my mother’s own history with cooking and the connection she feels to her grandmother through that. I guess cooking also helps me connect to my great grandmother even though she passed before I truly got to know her. I like to think that when I cook, I am doing the same motions and cooking the same things that she did when my mother watched her as a child as she learned how to cook. Cooking is truly the most simple and important act one can do, just to nourish oneself and one’s community.
Cooking is such a human thing. It’s part of what differentiates us from other species in the planet, we don’t just find any food and eat, although we do sometimes do that as well. We manipulate different foods around us and fashion them to our taste. There is something truly primal about cooking that makes me feel connected to the history of not only my lineage but to the history of mankind. I will leave you with this quote about Grotowski by Kari Barclay:
“ [Grotowski] hoped to capture spirits of ancestors and traditions from a primitive past (as an antidote to the modern world). Grotowski understood that motion contains emotion and that the body can contain the spiritual in addition to the material.”
By Anne-Marie Nyanda Tadfor Little