• roz whiteley

The Material Labour of (Self-(?))Care

For some participants, describing what care looks like in their kitchen involved thinking about how they care for themselves. Alice, Maria and Freya all described practices of looking after themselves by cooking meals in bulk that could be frozen and reheated. Freya elaborated:

"When I cook, I like to bulk cook an easy meal I can have (usually) rice with. I’m usually at uni 9-5 so it’s nice to have stuff in the freezer I can defrost, and cook rice for, in 10mind. That way I can care for myself by making sure I have a filling and veg-packed meal to enjoy even when I really can’t be bothered to cook. It’s nice to know that I usually have a meal full of veg even when I’ve run out of fresh food in the fridge" - Freya

Is this a practice of 'self-care'? Rebecca evoked this term in their letter by commenting 'big fan of the self-care aspect of the whole project'. For them, the encouragement that we share meals and actually cook them generated care for the self (through enacting the care practices of another).

'Self-care' is usually absent or devalued within much of the writing on feminist ethics of care. As Davina Cooper has outlined, care within this context is normatively constructed within feminist care ethics as being relational (that is, only existing in an outward direction), based exclusively on needs and therefore, for some theorists, mutually exclusive to pleasure and/or desire (2007). I am critical of this approach to an ethics of care. There are certainly valid critiques of the commercialisation and de-politicisation of 'self-care' as it has become popularised within mainstream circulation, as a neoliberal tool of mollifying the masses or a stand-in for actual political change (Michaeli, 2017). However, self-care can still be understood as the political strategy, and not one that is at odds with the concept of communities of care (Ahmed, 2014, Michaeli, 2017).

To return to Alice, Maria and Freya's letters, perhaps the practices they describe also reveal something about the burden of material labour that is involved in caring (for oneself or for others). Cooking is a labour-intensive process; it involves planning which meals to eat, travelling to the shop, purchasing items, unpacking them at home, prepping food, peeling, chopping, slicing, dicing, pre-heating, frying, sautéing, toasting, boiling, baking to name just a few of the potential tasks. Each of these tasks requires a physical, bodily, tactile form of engagement from the care-giver.

In Toby’s letter, he writes of care in the kitchen as being an ‘environment whereby all pitch in to help one another with both the cooking and the cleaning up (which is usually the long bit!)’. For Toby, care involves sharing the material labour of cooking between a group of people, splitting up the burden of the caregiving. This seems to be resonant with those who batch cook and freeze their meals as well; it becomes a sort of strategizing how to split and structure the labour of the tasks to minimise the workload when people may be tired (after a long day of work/uni/anything). Perhaps, it might be seen as a sort of paying it forward to oneself in this regard.

How do you look after yourself in the kitchen? What are the material labours involved in caring through cooking? Do you have strategies that you employ?

I used to love batch cooking when I lived alone. Unfortunately, now I have a tiny freezer (just one shelf in a small under the counter fridge unit) so now I tend to cook my meals from scratch most evenings (thankfully I have the time to do this at the moment during lockdown). I started a document several months ago that lists every meal and recipe I enjoy and structures my meal planning. This minimises some of the time and effort I have to put into building a shopping list at the weekend.

What about you? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and reflections upon these topics in the comments below.


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