Nigella Lawson Opens Up About Cooking As A Feminist

Nigella Lawson is flawless.

She has a cooking show and her own line of cookware.

Her new cookbook At My Table: A Celebration Of Home Cooking is a cozy glimpse into the friendly, reassuring world of home cooking.

Angelina Jolie was going to play her in a movie.

Blood, Bones and Butter is one of her favorite books.

And this week, she deigned to speak to the Forward about her favorite Jewish foods and about cooking as an act of independence.

You recently wrote an article I adored about home cooking as a radical feminist act. You spoke about how disparaging cooking is anti-feminist, because it has been traditionally female. How do you see cooking as a celebration of womanhood?

Yes, I do feel very strongly that to disparage any traditionally female activity is in itself anti-feminist, and yet I do also understand that it hasn’t always been easy to be comfortable assuming the role of cook in the home for women. Many women of my generation had mothers who were chained to the stove and were adamant their daughters escaped and forged an independent existence. I am very happy in the kitchen and feel that cooking is a vital part of expressing who I am as a person, but I don’t see it as a way of celebrating womanhood. I feel it can be a wonderful way of making ourselves stronger, as we feed and sustain ourselves - and women’s eating has a fraught history, so this matters. And while I enjoy cooking, I do not feel it is my duty or an expression of womanhood.

Can cooking be an act of establishing independence? How do you personally find your independence in cooking?

For me, cooking is a vital assertion of independence, as I cook for myself, and have done throughout my life. Quite practically, this means that I am keeping myself alive, but it also means that I am taking care of myself. I believe that we should all be kind in life, both to others and to ourselves. Food is an essential part of that. But for me there is another sense of feeling independent, and that is that I can just be by myself and be myself: cooking keeps me in the moment, and all the demands and noise and static of everyday life can fall away.

I feel like when I cook, it’s self indulgent, when I just as easily get my nutrients through an IV tube, but here I am, choosing to pay attention to what I eat and how and why. How much of cooking is about embracing decadence?

I can never agree that cooking for oneself is a decadent act, nor is it self-indulgent. I think a view like this comes from internalizing a culture that believes that women can live on air and shouldn’t eat and be strong, and that cooking is only permissible when feeding others, and men predominantly.

You’re part of a rare group of iconic television chefs who really influenced how people eat. How does it feel to be such a beloved public figure?

I really don’t see myself in that way, and actually that sort of self-evaluation makes me a little uncomfortable. But I do feel overwhelmed (in a good way) to have forged connections with people through the food I cook, write and talk about. That means a tremendous amount to me, and yes, I am wholeheartedly grateful for the warmth that I feel from people.

What are you cooking these days?

I have been on the road with my book tour for ‘At My Table’ for the past while, so I haven’t had a chance to cook, but I already know what I am cooking the minute I get back. On the menu, are my spicy lamb cutlets with mint and preserved lemon sauce/salsa (from the book) which will take me only a few moments the minute I get in from the airport. My shopping list includes red endive, which I’ll roast with olive oil and vermouth (or white wine) and sprinkle with thyme, which is a regular at my table and in ‘At My Table’. I also will be roasting a lot of asparagus as I am getting back to the UK for asparagus season and I plan to cook my late mother-in-law’s bean and barley soup.

What’s your favorite kind of Jewish food to cook?

Well, a house favorite is definitely Lokshen Pudding (what you in America call ‘kugel’): solid Ashkenazi fare. And yet I do enjoy cooking Sephardi food, with its bold and bright flavors.

Shira Feder is an ardent Nigella fan. You can reach her at feder@forward.com

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