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Cooked circa 1887

A couple of weeks ago, I published a piece at TIME.com taking issue with some of the emerging cultural notions about food, particularly Pollan's views in the new book Cooked. He essentially argues we'd all be better off if we got back to the kitchen and cooked for ourselves.  I posit that it is one of the marvels of our modern world that we don't have to cook (unless we want to).

In that context, it is useful to see what people who lived a century ago, many of whom had to work long hours in the kitchen, thought about cooking.  I happen to be reading the book Looking Backward written by Edward Bellamy in 1887 with a group of colleagues.  In the book, Bellamy imagines a man living in the late 1800s who wakes up to find himself in a socialist utopia in the year 2000.  I thought the following passages about cooking in his time (1887) compared with the imagined utopia in 2000 were quite revealing.

Here is one passage where a women in the year 2000 is talking about "chores" in the modern utopia:

"Who does your housework, then?" I asked.
"There is none to do," said Mrs. Leete, to whom I addressed this question.  "Our washing is all done at public laundries at excessively cheap rates, and our cooking at public kitchens."

So, this author's vision of a utopia is one in which people don't have to cook for themselves!  He reveals the reason why when discussing the work of women in the late 1800s:

"What a paradise for womankind the world must be now!" I exclaimed.  "In my day, even wealth and unlimited servants did not enfranchise their possessors from household cares, while the women of the merely well-to-do and poorer classes lived and died martyrs to them."
"Yes," said Mrs. Leete, "I have read something of that; enough to convince me that, badly off as the men, too, were in your day, they were more fortunate than their mothers and wives."

As history reveals, be glad you don't have to cook unless you happen to like to.