A couple of months ago I got a bit obsessed with this recurring question on Metafilter from people who can't or won't learn to cook and are keen to know if a single food will supply all human dietary requirements. It's been asked so often that it gets its own section in the FAQ and the discussions it provokes are always similar. I have never been as averse to cooking as these people are, but I used to be fairly bad at it. Having to care for three kids for half of every week was what got me a lot more at ease in the kitchen: I can't say that we had a very intricate or varied diet in those days but it was balanced and healthy and I got into a routine of pretty much always having enough fresh ingredients in the house each week.
The most important part of cooking for kids, for me, at least, was that it forces you to learn how to do it quickly and without needing to give it one hundred percent of your attention, because there are other thing which need doing, like making sure that there are clean school uniforms for tomorrow or helping with homework and projects.
I feel like this was one of those quiet rewards of being a parent, I never expected it but I'm very grateful that I can just do it withough stressing about it.
Today I finished re-reading Brian Dillon's Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives, which is an excellent book, but maybe not the best thing for me to read when I'm home sick and wondering if I've got COVID (still testing negative) and I found this entry on Glenn Gould's reaction to being approached for a favourite recipe to be included in a forthcoming cookbook:
He takes, he regrets, an 'Anglo-Saxon' approach to food: 'My basic attitude... is that it's a time-consuming nuisance...and I would be only too delighted if one could effectively sustain oneself with all necessary nutritional elements by the simple intake of X capsules per day. I realise that this sounds forbiddingly aescetic, but it's a fair reflection of my attitude toward the subject, and I beg to request exclusion from your volume accordingly.'
This could be dropped seamlessly into one of the Metafilter threads on whether human chow exists, and it seems part of the same intellectual tendency that gave rise to Soylent and other prepackaged food supplements, a Silicon Valley culture which sees food as simply fuel for one's cerebral activity, to be ingested with as little distraction as possible. The idea that cooking could be a relaxing activity which lets you wind down and ground yourself a bit is simply not an option here.
It's a paradox that this attitude seems strongly associated with a region which also played a big part, in earlier decades, in the cultural shift which saw the utilitarian 'Anglo-Saxon' approach to food transform into something more hedonistic and holistic. The obvious parallel here is Apple, whose original branding was explicitly tied to the rustic and folksy Californianism of the seventies, almost the exact opposite of its present sleek and bloodless aesthetic.
In all of those threads, the idea of potatoes as a universal nutrient always comes up, and I've been reminded of this today not only by the Gould quote but by coming across this program to run a community trial of an all-spud diet by a couple of anonymous data science bloggers who have opinions on the obesity epidemic.
I like potatoes but it feels like there's a certain chilling lack of historical context here, it feels a bit disrespectful to my Irish ancestry not only to doubt that man can live on potatoes but also to try the experiment out of something more than the pressure of poverty.