“Hence a cookery which is based on coatings and alibis, and is for ever trying to extenuate and even to disguise the primary nature of foodstuffs, the brutality of meat or the abruptness of sea-food.”
In his 1957 essay, Ornamental Cookery, French philosopher and literary theorist, Roland Barthes skewers mid-century food photography as an aspirational petit bourgeois convention. He cites an “endeavour to glaze surfaces, to round them off, to bury the food under the even sediment of sauces, creams, icing and jellies”.
The use of the word “alibi” intrigues and excites me because it implicates us (the consumers) in the brutality surrounding the “primary nature of foodstuffs”. Try to contemplating with every bite, the cruelty, maltreatment, exploitation, inequality, commodity dumping, price fixing, nutrient runoff, excessive pesticide and herbicide use, dirt, viscera, blood and slaughter that comprises our food supply chain. Little wonder that we use utensils, simple technology that not only keeps our hands clean, but distances us from the underlying horror of what we eat.
Similarly, upon getting dressed one confronts (or chooses not to) the exploitation, coercion, displacement of populations, child labour, sweatshop conditions, horrific (and avoidable) industrial accidents, war, colonialism and slavery that are the history and present of the textile and garment industry.
I have selected the spoon, the most sensual of utensils and the sewing machine, the charismatic icon of the industrial age. Apart from their appeal as seductive objects, they further complicate meaning by being signifiers of class. Just like knowing which diminutive spoon or fork is appropriate while dining, a home sewing machine implies polite accomplishment, while an industrial sewing machines recall images of rationalized labour. The same appliance depending on size and context is used to domesticate and industrialize.