It occurred to me last night, as I was assembling the thirty ingredients for a recipe from a cookbook received for Christmas, that cookery and the pursuit of beauty will integrate us far faster than hate speech laws, sensitivity training and the hectoring of our superiors. Our senses are ravenous for novelty and where is it easily acquired? The culture of the mysterious other. Two of the three cookbooks I recently acquired focus intensively on Middle-Eastern and Asian cookery, and because I am bored rustling up the usual European country fare or Waspish hunks of roasted meat, I will inevitably slide over to Iranian-American Samin Nozrat or Donna Hay’s investigation of Middle Eastern cookery or even in a mad courageous moment OttoLenghi who remains the ascendant god in cookery circles. Even his salad ingredients can be 20 ingredients long, and mastering that complexity is a perfect antidote for the bored and restless.
Upper-middle-class women have defined culture for five thousand years. Even in these ferociously egalitarian days, the shoppers, the drivers of the marketplace are women of leisure. Women with or without children with the time and money and taste to beautify their lives and the lives of their family are the culture, the Ting, the investigators and originators of pleasures high and low. Without them, capitalism falters and fails. Everyone follows them whether they like it or not. And who are they following? Gwyneth Paltrow and cooks like Iranian-American Samin Nosrat, who trained at Panisse and has a four-part hit Netflix show on the refinement of the fundamentals of cooking.
[epq-quote align=”align-left”]I would argue that these days we are all upper-middle-class women, especially those in the gig economy because more often than not, in the leisure time provided by the gig economy, we acquire and investigate in their footsteps.[/epq-quote]
Paltrow’s Goop does the same for beauty and fashion, and Paltrow, with her blend of crazy and gorgeous married to vertiginous prices, owns the space. There is no better marketer around, the Chinese and Koreans knock her off within seconds, selling her products to the less well-heeled at a fraction of the price. Paltrow draws from every culture, Korean, Indian, African, whatever, if it promises grooming or health that will put its user ahead in the sexual game, Goop editors don’t care, up it goes on the site, and eagerly purchased it is. I cannot wait for the update from the seraglio.
The NYTimes Magazine published an essay last weekend trying to establish why the hell animals display beauty beyond the mating season. This observation is frustrating to the usual reader of the NYTimes because properly, everything must be reduced to its utilitarian purpose. But in fact, as the writer observes:
“Sometimes beauty is the glorious but meaningless flowering of arbitrary preference. Animals simply find certain features — a blush of red, a feathered flourish — to be appealing. And that innate sense of beauty itself can become an engine of evolution, pushing animals toward aesthetic extremes. In other cases, certain environmental or physiological constraints steer an animal toward an aesthetic preference that has nothing to do with survival whatsoever.”
Turning our attention to beauty and pleasure is probably a lot healthier than engaging in the psychotic shrieks of alarm that pervade our public lives. And when next we turn around, all will be peace.