Nigella Lawson on eating, feminism: ‘I don’t think it’s a moral good to cook’

Nigella Lawson & guests on The Late Late

This interview with Nigella Lawson made me feel old! I remember when she first became a big thing in food/cooking TV programming, and I was startled to realize that it’s been 20 YEARS. This is the 20-year anniversary of the publication of her first “cookbook,” How To Eat. How To Eat made a global superstar and it ushered in an age of less-fussy home-cooking, in Britain and abroad. Nigella chatted with The Cut about the 20-year anniversary and how everything changed when she – GASP – encouraged average, everyday non-chefs to try simple recipes at home. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

What she did with How To Eat: She wanted “to own up to the fact that we can all feel stressed and overwhelmed by cooking at times… In a way, I know it sounds absolutely ludicrous, but saying something like, ‘You don’t have to make broth from scratch all the time’ was quite a big thing.”

The ‘90s chef-led cooking conversation: “I think what it was to, particularly for us in the U.K., it was meant to be the age of our great culinary renaissance, the ’90s. But it was very much taking place in restaurants. So, people started thinking they had to cook like that at home. And so really, in every single magazine article was really how to cook like a chef. It was very much the idea that people would come, and you would, as much as possible, try to copy the great restaurants, and do menus like that. And it was very unworkable…For me, I just thought, “This is ridiculous.” And what had propelled me was going to a dinner party at a friend’s house. We sat in her sitting room, at her table, and she was in the kitchen cooking quite elaborate food. And we could all hear her crying loudly in the kitchen. Everyone was getting quite awkward.”

Cooking is not about morality: “I feel that it does no one a service, male or female, to feel ill at ease in the kitchen. I don’t think it’s a moral good to cook, and I don’t think it matters whether you can cook or not. But, from my point of view, I feel it’s very much part of my independence, and it’s important for me not to think that I have to depend on anyone else for my subsistence in a way, and my survival, which food is. So, it was about encouraging people who are frightened of cooking, by showing how straightforward it can be.

Whether cooking & eating can be feminist: “I also was writing it very much from a point of view of saying to women — I mean obviously I wasn’t just writing for women — but was saying to women: “You are entitled to eat.” And I think that it’s so important, because women had been trained to be the providers of food but not the consumers of food. And that to me is a terrible thing…See, when I wrote How to Be a Domestic Goddess [2000], in a title ironic, and I was criticized for that… But I always felt it is essentially anti-feminist to disparage anything that has traditionally belonged to the female realm. Of course if it is expected of you and it’s drudgery, that is not a comfortable thing. But I certainly feel that, in a way, perhaps, it’s a space that we had to reclaim. And I think what made this easier for me as well is that my generation of friends, more men cooked than women. And so, I didn’t think I was being retrograde in some sense. And as I say, I didn’t feel it was my duty to cook. I’ve never implied that my ideal eater is a man.

Sexism & cooking: “I certainly think the way women are talked about rather than men … It’s like a capitalist thing — because men worked in restaurants, initially — that somehow if you earn money from it, it makes what you do of more value. So therefore, those who cook in their home, it wasn’t as important. And I think that in the end, men are talked about as these great creators, and women are talked about as cozy creatures, as if it’s a women’s job to provide a warm and twinkly domestic environment. And I don’t know that I think that’s true, but I think that men do command a different sort of respect from cooking generally.

[From The Cut]

I never realized that Nigella was so intellectual and socio-political about cooking, and I really appreciate everything she says here. “I don’t think it’s a moral good to cook, and I don’t think it matters whether you can cook or not.” This is a profound statement – so many chefs and cooks act like they are the truest benefactors of society because they “feed people,” like they’re morally superior to people who can’t boil an egg. “I think that men do command a different sort of respect from cooking generally.” That too is a profound statement – that somehow being a “chef” was only important when MEN did it, and if “weak” women could cook a bit at home, well tut-tut, isn’t that cute. Also: “You are entitled to eat.” That too was an important message, because it was always clear that Nigella ENJOYED eating as much as she enjoyed cooking.

Nigella Lawson signs copies of her new book 'At My Table'

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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19 Responses to “Nigella Lawson on eating, feminism: ‘I don’t think it’s a moral good to cook’”

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  1. Sara says:

    She is super bright and a badass.

  2. Jay says:

    Yay! I liked this. I like that she has real THOUGHTS about cooking and politics and feminism and culture that are all intertwined. More of this, please.

  3. Tai says:

    She graduated from Oxford and is very intelligent. I really like her cooking shows.

  4. Chasmey says:

    Okay, but who is that lady in the red velvet blazer at the top? I know the one at the bottom in black is Nigella.

  5. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I’ve always loved her. However, her sexy schtick can get old and tedious. I thoroughly enjoy shows like MasterChef Australia and others which normally include her in their programming, and she can be an eye-rolling sex kitten. But when she lets that go, and slips into serious mode, she’s quite informative and well versed.

  6. L84Tea says:

    I love Nigella. I have been mesmerized by her smarts, her incredible vocabulary (NOBODY can describe cooking methods the way she can), her curvaceous beauty, her charm, everything about her since I was about 20 when I discovered her around the year 2000.

    • bros says:

      100% co-sign. She got me cooking when I was living off campus in college. I could not get enough of her. she’s an incredible speaker and writer-MUCH more intelligent than many of the food network biddies that were on at the same time-in a class all her own.

      Every time I use a knife in the butter container and see breadcrumbs, I think of her saying it’s her one phobia/thing she cannot abide.

  7. Fluffy Princess says:

    I love Nigella and still have those original cookbooks. I used to watch her TV show for her and I adored how much she loved food. She would always really enjoy what she just made, in a weird way it did make it okay to “lovelove” food–to take pleasure in not only the preparation, but in the results of your efforts.

  8. lingli says:

    I have several of her cookbooks and do like them very much (although occasionally they need slightly better editing; I remember a jam recipe that says “Put a saucer in the freezer” but then never mentions the saucer again!). Her tv shows are great, too, partly because there are elements verging on the ridiculous – is there anyone else who has a “liquorice cupboard”? 😄

    My ex was a chef and used to complain bitterly about her knife technique…but it never really stopped him watching, funnily enough…

  9. jay says:

    I remember one episode of her show where she just went out and got fish and chips, sat at a park bench by herself in the sun, and enjoyed it. It was so revolutionary! Not only was she rejecting the idea that women only prepare food when there’s someone to feed, but also that sometimes (even when you’re on a cooking show) you just don’t feel like up to it and that’s ok. She’s my sensuous food queen for life.

    • Trashaddict says:

      That is brilliant. I have always said, you should go out for food that is so time consuming, that if you had to make it yourself, you would no longer be interested once it was done. Perfect example.

  10. Tiffany :) says:

    There was a recipe of hers that I tried years ago, and I still dream about it. It’s a clementine cake, made only with whole clementines, eggs, sugar, ground almonds and a touch of baking powder. It was soooooo delicious and aromatic.

  11. BCity says:

    Ahhhhh I love her!!! Agree with everything she said. I love to cook, but honestly I enjoy it because it’s fun to me, which couldn’t be less selfless 😂😂. Yes, feeding my family is great and it’s a really nice bonding thing to do…but, can I be honest for a sec? If whatever I made sucks (yes, it happens) I kind of don’t get that upset because I still had a good time? The amoral shame of it 😁😁

  12. Karmacoma says:

    She’s just so lovely to watch.

    Her passion for cooking and food is obvious.

    I watched her most recent show last week with my husband, and it was just a joy.

  13. MaryContrary says:

    Her cookbooks are wonderful. It’s not necessarily the recipes themselves-it’s how she writes. I do have a very dog-eared copy of “How to Eat.” Our family favorites were the linguini and clams, and the chicken pot pie. I wrote the date I first prepared them, and the kids and hubby’s comments. Those toddlers are now in college-so I have super fond memories of preparing these recipes for my young family.

  14. gangstamoll says:

    The fact that one of her best known books is called “How to EAT” not “How to COOK XYZ” is very telling. I have always loved her, sex kitten shtick and all.

    Her pork chops with cider and mustard will always be a favorite in my home.

  15. Deepa says:

    I love her and what she says here! She’s wonderful, hope to keep hearing more from her!