We've all felt that way at one time or another. Right?
It's not that I'm feeling particularly tortured myself. Well, maybe just enough to write this post in response to a conversation with someone who accused me (specifically) and modern cooking (in general) of torturing food.
"Why all the manipulation? Why torture food? Why make cooking so complicated? You take a solid, turn it into a liquid, then make it solid again. Why denature something just to make it look natural?
They were valid questions— certainly ones I've heard before— and they were asked out of genuine curiosity. But they were designed to provoke a defense, so she looked a little letdown when I nodded in agreement and told her that she was absolutely right.
But I wasn't letting her off that easy— I pointed to the sandwich that she was eating during our conversation and told her that it was a very tortured thing indeed. In explanation, I took her along the path that put it in her hand. I think I used words like thrashed, crushed, pulverized, whipped, beaten, fermented, and intense heat. And that was just addressing the bread. I started in on the pastrami, cheese, and mustard, but stopped short because she was looking a little tortured herself.
Regardless of what we put in our mouths, its inception was to rob something of its vital force. All food was once alive. Is it more honorable to pluck food directly from its habitat and eat it raw, letting our teeth grind and pulverize it into something that can be digested, or to use our wit and skill to render it delicious and magnificent? Isn't that a decision we must all make for ourselves?
Cooking is violent. We casually violate food with knives and fire and think nothing of it. Is chopping less of a crime than juicing? Poaching less brutal than sous-vide? In an alternate universe where the plant and animal kingdoms ruled, wouldn't we all be accused of torture?
To cook is to transform. When we claim to cook simply, we deny the complicated processes that we initiate and fail to acknowledge the everyday miracles that take place in our kitchens. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, a pound of butter are wonderfully complex things.
We coax,manipulate, torture, because it makes food better; more palatable and enjoyable.
If we could just cook and let cook, maybe we could all relax, explore, and enjoy.
And stop feeling so tortured.