Failing at Fondue

The Daily Mail has published an article about yet another retro-living woman who has spent a week pretending to live with the resource limitations of another era. We’ve seen women of the 1930s and 1940s, and couples of the 1950s… today, however, we are graced with the attempt by one woman to live in the 1970s of Britain. Not the full range of retro elements, mind you – no bell-bottomed leisure suits for her! Just the cooking.

The woman in question bemoans the loss of her microwave, her bread maker, her coffee maker, her electric scales… and even her food processor. Apparently she’s reliving the very early ’70s, since they were certainly available later in the decade. But, then, this was pre-Thatcher Britain, and people still ate twigs.

I’ve lived in Bolivia for two years. I cook two meals a day in a world without the benefit of a microwave or prepared goods. Macaroni and Cheese in boxes is considered a serious splurge in our Bolivian household (it does, after all, cost more than making a beef roast stew).

She babbles on about how dreadfully difficult, how mindnumbingly time-consuming, it all is. To listen to her, cooking from scratch would seem to be a miserable all-day task.

She’s right, in a sense. Everything does take longer. The way she whines, however, sounds as if she spent hours slaving away each day for a week only to collapse at the table in exhaustion. Comparing her tales with reality, I can only conclude that she’s just lousy at it.

Bolivia lacks easy fast food, and what exists is just as expensive as it is in the United States. How can one casually go to the one Burger King in town when it costs just as much as going to El Porton, the nicest steakhouse in the city? Processed greasy fast hamburger or Argentine steak? Dilemma.

We do have a microwave and it has worked for a collective six months of the twenty-six months I’ve been here. The microwave has one teensy problem: plug it into the wall and it burns out.

In fairness, we do also have a food processor and a Kitchenaid stand mixer. Each appliance saves at least fifteen minutes off each major project. This is necessary when one has to cook two separate entrees at each meal to cover the needs of eight people, three of whom have violent allergies to the key elements which make food Taste Good.

We do not, though, have a bread maker or an ice cream maker… and I fail to see the use for electric scales in day to day cooking. Or Thanksgivings, for that matter.

We buy sandwich bread, but we bake regularly regardless. Then we’ve the cookies. Why would we buy cookies from the store when we can bake them for half the price? Our Bolivian grocery bills are already the equal of our American grocery bills, thanks to Bolivia’s political mis-leadership.

And yet… unlike the Daily Fail’s frazzled idiot-cook, I still manage to get around town, take grad courses, and, in the case of this past Tuesday, watch seven episodes of Buffy.

I’d like to see the article’s author dropped into my great-grandmother’s world of 1930s-40s coal mining West Virginia. A special room meant for keeping hand-salted meats stored away for the winter, endless days spent canning vegetables in glass jars…

… but, then the universe would collapse in one great big collective whine.

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