On the His Dark Materials series

Kids in the Kitchen

By Natasha Giardina

When I was a kid, I loved to cook. I even had my own cookbooks–the sort that said things like: “Put one cup of flour, a knob of butter and a small handful of sugar in a bowl, and squish the mixture with your hands until it looks like breadcrumbs. Ask your mother to slice two apples into small pieces. Remember, knives are dangerous and you could cut yourself, so always ask an adult to do this for you!”

From these cookbooks I got the impression that if I were left alone in the kitchen I would inevitably cut myself to ribbons with knives, scald myself with boiling water and probably beat myself to death with the wooden spoon. These cookbooks transmitted a range of ideological messages about childhood and adulthood. They assumed that children were automatically less capable at performing kitchen tasks than adults were, and that adults, in contrast, would perform the same tasks perfectly and without injury. More than that, they implied that the role of adults was to stand in the background of child activity to deal with all the difficult bits, while the role of children was to obey the adult rules about “dangerous stuff” and learn the skills they would need to become successful adults of the future. Perhaps it was my mother’s frequent trips to hospital to get cuts stitched and burns dressed that made me wonder why the books assumed Mum would do things so much better than I could, in the  …

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