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The Meaning of Cooking / Edition 1

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In 1785 James Boswell and Dr Johnson were trying to come up with a way of distinguishing human beings from animals. 'The beasts have memory, judgement, and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree,' said Boswell, 'but no beast is a cook.'

Cooking is central to our lives, despite the fact that it never received the attention from serious scholars it might have had Boswell's definition caught on. The kitchen is in many ways the heart of the home, and the dining table is the family's little theatre where we all act out our parts. It has its script ('how has your day been?') and it is the setting for both the pleasures and the crises of couples and family life. Having to sit facing each other brings out the best and the worst in us. Eating a meal is an ordeal by truth, and it reveals the true state of our conjugal and parental relationships.

In this rich and highly entertaining book the French sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann takes us into kitchens and dining rooms and deciphers the meaning of food, cooking and eating in the lives of families and couples. We get inside cooks' heads and come to know their innermost - and often contradictory - thoughts. Should they rustle up a quick and simple meal, or create something special? That's a difficult question, as they are forging social relationships as well as making meals. Through this meticulous exploration of the everyday, Kaufmann brings out the astonishing ways in which we create our most meaningful relationships with our lovers, spouses and offspring through the ordinary acts of creating and consuming food.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A family meal is a social construct more complicated than the tasks involved would suggest, and its study is back where sexuality was before Freud. In fact, Kaufmann reminds us, historically there have been more taboos concerning food than sex."
The International Herald Tribune

"By showing how the preparation and consumption of food form the basis of our closest personal relationships, Kaufmann provides a persuasively unromantic view of why cooking matters."
Alan Warde, University of Manchester

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780745646909
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 8/30/2010
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean-Claude Kaufmann is Professor of Sociology at University of Paris V Sorbonne

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Table of Contents




Frogs and Dogs.

The Discovery of Pleasures.

Healthy Eating.

Scientific Errors.

What the 'Cretan Diet' Teaches Us.


Minor Compromises.

A Guilty Conscience.

The Tastes of Pleasure.

The Like and Dislikes That Rule Us.

The Geopolitics of Sugar.

Flour and Women.

'You've Got Everything to Hand'.

The Fridge Culture.

The Low-Cal Individual.

The Historical Inversion.

Ordeal by Fat.

The Void Within.

Diets and Regression.


A Clanship of Porridge.

Dietary Incest.

Sacrifice and Banquets.

Parties With the Gods?

Towards Profane Meals?

A Short History of Tables (Part One).

Meals Without a Compass.


Fork to the Left, Knife to the Right.

A Strange Encounter.

The Rigid Family.

Towards A New Communion?



Pure Discipline.

Discipline in Pieces.

A Domestic Revolt.

Women Are Not What They Used To Be.

Feeding The Family and Slimming At The Same Time.

Different Stages.

A Child-Centred World.

New Rituals.

A Dream Family.

Disjointed Conversations.

Table Talk.

What The Children Say.


Eating Together.

The Syncretism of Minor Pleasures.

Minor Adventures.

The Interplay Between 'I' and 'We'.

Children At The Table.


The Sweet Jar, The Fridge and The Table.

Alone At Last.


A Drink Before The Meal.

Birth Of The Family.

A Breathing Space.

The Children Come Home.

The Beginning of the End, Or A New Beginning?

Meals and Families.

Non-Families and Non-Meals.

The First Meal.

Taking Sides.

Talking About The Weather.

A Short History Of Tables (Part Two).

Just A Table?



The Chef.

Two Worlds.

The Ancien Regime.

Lightening the Burden.

Hidden Difficulties.

Coming Up With An Idea.

A Sudden Fancy.

'What Would You Like To Eat Tomorrow?'

Inside The Cook's Head.

'Making Mud Pies'.

Time Inverted.

The Personal Touch.

'A Lot or Organizing'.


The Aftermath.


Variety and Variations.


Transmission and Autonomy.

Mothers and Daughters.

First Steps.

Everything Falls Into Place.

Sharing the Work.

The Division of Labour.


A Star Is Born.

When Men Start To Do The Cooking.

From Sacrifice to Gift.

'Hand-Made' Love.

A Way of saying 'I Love You'.

Food and Elective Bonds.

A Family Consensus; Educating the Family.

Manipulative Tactics.

Compliments, But Not Too Many.

For the Family.



Special Offers and Rationality.





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