Tag Archives: dogma

How to and why not

Get perfect results every time! Fix your life in these ten easy steps! There’s nothing like a How To book for telling you stuff, but is it doing us any good? To poke this notion around I’m going to focus on the topic of cooking, but I think the implications are much wider.

I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch, seldom following recipes. I often look at recipes for ideas and inspiration, and I might follow one closely the first time I do it if there are delicate bits, but mostly that’s not how I work. I like to learn theories and apply them as they suit me.

I have noticed that it is normal for books on cooking and baking to contain lots of obscure ingredients. Things I don’t keep on hand, can’t easily find. Their presence can persuade a person that cooking is not for them. Most instructional books are really dogmatic also. They often have introductions that say if you don’t follow this exactly, all bets are off. Having spent years swapping round ingredients, using more and less of almost anything if I haven’t got enough, or like it a lot… the results tend to be wholly edible.

What cookery books teach us is that food should come out the same every time. Like pre-packaged food. It’s not about personal creativity, innovation or using up what was left in the fridge, it’s about following instructions. It’s about imposing the dubious standards of industrialisation on our home life. Most of us will not create exactly the same results each time even when we’re trying, and may be persuaded that we’re better buying more mass produced stuff rather than enjoying our own cooking.

If you follow recipes, you can’t grab what’s on offer or in season, you have to buy ingredients for the recipe. That’s a lot of extra faff, and requires forward planning. If you can pick up what looks good and improvise with it, cooking is more fun, more efficient, and requires less thinking. Weary people are not easily persuaded to take long ingredients lists to supermarkets and so proper cooking becomes something you do on special occasions, and the rest of the time, it’s easier to buy sauces in jars, pre-prepared things and stick to what you know. This costs more, and results in a bland, impersonal diet.

Mass produced food is always the same. Our cookery books can encourage us to accept that this is the standard to aspire to. Not that mass produced food is a bit bland and obvious, but that our own cooking should emulate it. Never mind what’s in season, or out of season. No room is left for imagination, innovation or play. Just follow the instructions to get perfect results every time.


People: what’s not to like?

Taken individually, I tend to like people. It probably helps that I look for things to like, and have passable empathy around the things that render people grumpy. I’ve been following School of Life, who do a good job of pointing out that even as adults we can be knocked around by all the same things that make babies miserable and uncooperative. Low blood sugar can bring any of us down. I’m endlessly interested by other people’s stories, ideas and beliefs and very easy about people not agreeing with me over a lot of things.

Most of us are works in progress. Many of us have old scars and places of fragility that make perfect sense of why we do as we do, but which make us odd for other people to deal with. Many of us are insecure, anxious, overtired, out of our depth, faking it in the desperate hope of one day making it. Some of us are in pain. Some of us have really big challenges that are not visible. These are all things to cut each other some slack for, to be patient with, and not to judge. It helps to talk, I find. If I know why a person is flailing, I’m less likely to take it personally and therefore more likely to be able to help. Or at least turn up with cake.

Just every now and then, someone turns up who I cannot find it in myself to like and often the things on the list combine, so that three or four are acting at once.

Fondness for creating drama in order to be the centre of attention, needlessly using up other people’s time and energy by making problems. Eventually the inability to be out of crisis becomes obvious.

Unwillingness to learn. By all means keep making new mistakes, but to refuse to change what manifestly doesn’t work and then expect sympathy, time, attention and energy from others and there are serious questions that need asking.

Entitlement. Imagine that you are entitled to my time, skills, energy, body, without any expression of gratitude or anything offered in exchange, or act like you are entitled to take from me without my consent, and after a while I will stop co-operating. Assume you are magic and special and that everything you want should happen the moment you announce it, and we are not going to be friends.

Cruelty. I have no time for people who enjoy hurting other people. (Consenting BDSM stuff aside, that’s different). Anyone who takes pleasure from making other living things miserable, I have no tolerance for whatsoever.

Dogma. Often this comes from a place of insecurity – not feeling confident the person needs everyone to agree with them. However, if the dogma pushing becomes aggressive or abusive, or demanding, then I will move away.

I’m also not very good at dealing with smug self-importance, rudeness, arrogance, and people who like to patronise me. People who wilfully mislead me had better have a stunningly good reason and I really don’t like being taken for granted. I also don’t like people trying to control me or hold power over me.

I believe in giving people second chances, because people mess up, it’s part of being human, and so often messing up has everything to do with not knowing what was needed. We do not all start with the same beliefs, assumptions and emotional needs, and we don’t all communicate in the same ways, and these things merit gentleness and trying again. Just now and then, someone crosses the lines so often, or so thoroughly, that I have to step away.