Sunday, 11 September 2016


Female culinary illusions

Fast forward to the modern age and we still have women who have gained a high accolade for their contribution to the culinary world. Fanny Craddock, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith are probably the biggest British cooks and food television personalities. 

Focusing on Delia for now, whose ‘niche’ or demographic has always been basic food and refining culinary skills for the masses. I doubt you could find a recipe of hers describing how to create caramelised sugar cages to be placed over a tart, or using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Instead, Delia generally sticks towards the more simplistic, homely and at times rustic palate. Her role can be seen as an educator for the masses of how to cook or bake, which is clearly represented in the titles of the books she has published: Delia Smith’s Cookery Course, Delia’s How to Cook (Book I, II and III respectively) and Delia’s Book of Cakes. A brief analysis of the language used places Delia firmly in a position of knowledge, skill and acts as an exemplary figurehead of how things should be done in the kitchen. Much like Mrs Beeton’s Household Management a century before her, Delia’s texts are much more than a simple cookbook to flick through for a fun recipe, but in fact a manual of how we should function. While Beeton included guidance on servants or medical advice, Delia’s books track the introduction of other cuisines and styles into the British diet. The “Delia Effect’ has been economically mapped - as consumers of her books or tv shows en-masse buy products or utensils which she has recommended. Egg sales allegedly rose 10% in 1998. Anita Singh outlines the gravitas of the so called ‘Delia Effect’: 
She caused a national cranberry shortage in 1995 and transformed the fortunes of a struggling Lancashire firm when she described their omelette pan as a "little gem", prompting sales to leap from 200 a year to 90,000 in four months.
The 'little gem' in action!

You can even buy said pan here on her website!

Sounds impressive, and it is. 

However, there is another side to Delia - she openly cheats at cooking. In fact, her initial cookbook was called How to Cheat at Cooking! A whole debate could be made as to what ‘cheating’ consists of, but I think it is easier you see it for yourself as she makes a Shephard’s Pie. 

One thing to note from her introduction is 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so when you taste it you'll know it's okay'. Okay seems to be the operative word here - immediately introducing audiences to a lower standard of proof when it comes to culinary delights (or is my inner cynic showing?). My inner cynic would go even further and say that her humility acts as a guise of 'cookers guilt' as she is fully aware the food she is preparing is not of quality... but for fear of a defamation charge I shall not continue. 

Thankfully later on in the clip she continues to show viewers how to prepare a leek, which is a surprise considering she grabbed a bag of ready prepared leek a few moments prior (to which a part of my soul vanished). For a recipe clip that is just over two and a half minutes it is upsetting to think that the only part of cooking skill/ability from scratch comes in at 1min 42 seconds. Not that I am saying all meals should be made from scratch, but for a television cook who based her career on educating the masses on how to cook it is troubling to see such blatant disregard for her own culinary niche.

Delia has been on British TV for decades and has published goodness knows how many books and recipes. Of course, I could factually look that up with a quick internet search… but in true Delia form I will cut corners to get a quicker finished product. 

Unlike Beeton who doesn’t really divulge in the origins of her recipes, Delia makes it very clear that she doesn’t make everything from scratch. Quite the contrary - she seems to revel in it. In fact if you once again have a brief look on her website - there is a whole section dedicated to her 'cheat' recipes - as the URL can reveal:

The themes and ideas I refer to above have  been seemingly put into practice in other forms of media. The music video ‘Everybody’s Fool’ by Evanescence is a prime example - exposing the superficial world we surround ourselves in. The introduction before the song starts is in a domestic setting that has a distinct late 60s/early 70s vibe to it. We see a teenage girl (played by lead singer Amy Lee) return from the kitchen with a pizza in hand, in what is clearly a television commercial. Twee music plays in the background as the family  hungrily awaiting their meal - are ecstatic to see the pizza. The other woman, presumably playing the mother asks the origin of the pizza:

“-And you made it all by yourself?”
“That’s our girl” 
The cut to the lead character who seems to break the 4th wall
This shot is pivotal. It immediately outlines the superficiality of the scene and shatters any culinary domestic skill we may have attributed to the character. Though brief, the almost overenthusiastic "OOPS!" - all in capital letters is undermined by the knowing smirk of deception. Ultimately - it is evident that this is a ready-made pizza, presumably frozen that has simply been heated through. 

This domestic setting is one dominated by women,  as in this example the male characters are submissive to the actions of women as to what the family is fed. 

The commercial ends with a summarative slogan that outlines the conflict for the rest of the music video “there is nothing better than a good lie” with an eerily cheery smily to boot. 

So - what has this all to do with body shaming I hear you ask? 

Well... everything and nothing.

After the patriarchal policing of what fruit a woman can be easily compared to in order to judge their body and the harsh ingrained judgement we cast on any woman that eats or 'drinks custard' - it only seems fitting that we shame the ways in which women prepare the food that is consequently consumed too. Fulfilling this domestic fantasy that has been conjured in the last century. The idea of the housewife, the domestic woman at home who is manager of the home. Beetonite women in the modern age. 

Rest assured I will include a brief analysis on Mrs. Beeton later on to add on to this entry!

Evanescence - Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 -
Screenshot from Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 
Delia effect quote - 

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