What’s cooking with Gwyneth?

Seven is an important number in our lives. Who doesn’t know Shakespeare’s famous verse about the seven ages of men (and women) from  As You Like It?

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school...

And now, based on a BBC survey of more than 160,000 people, academics have concluded that the British society can be divided into seven classes as well. The old system of the three — upper, middle and lower classes — might be thrown out. This fine new dissection takes into account minute details right from what one eats to where one has studied and even the kind of aspirations one has.
Accordingly, the professors have based the following classifications on three kinds of capital: economic, social and cultural.
At the bottom of the heap is the class they call Precariat, perhaps because even at this low level they are precariously perched, obviously bereft of all three kinds of capital. They comprise mostly of the shopkeepers, cleaners and the drivers and have been separated from the next step up the ladder — the Traditional Working Class. The latter comprises an older age group (in their mid 60s), still trapped in older modes of employment, though they are not as poor as the previous class. Next comes the Emergent Service Workers. This is a young, “emerging” urban middle class which may not be very cash rich, but has great potential and a lot of social capital as well. The next in line is the Technical Middle Class. They live in more cultural isolation (perhaps due to their IT dependency?) than the previous group, but have more actual cash to splash. One step up are the New Affluent Workers: another “young and active group”, this one is not too rich and could be called middling in terms of economic capital but does better on cultural and social capital. The Established Middle Class is better off, possessing all three kinds of capital and are quite “outgoing”. But their capital is not as much as the Elite class possesses — who could be simply called the filthy rich in every way.
The interesting thing among the Elite is that while women are apparently equally represented, the ethnic groups are barely covered. Does that mean that Asians and others are still lumped together as one homogenous lot? Perhaps it is time someone also did a survey of what we’re up to in the UK. Or are we predominantly still considered shopkeepers and curry sellers? According to this survey, this latter lot belongs to the Precariat, and they lack any kind of social, economic or cultural capital. Ouch!
And the other conclusion, sadly, for those who have gone to Cambridge University, is that Oxford graduates are more likely to be among the Elite and are more highbrow. Cambridge graduates are more drawn to videogames than opera. They could even be “culturally disengaged”! So now you know where to go for that snob value! Oxford, not Cambridge!

Meanwhile, whilst I have a healthy disregard for cooking (i.e. I always prefer it if someone else cooks!), I have no problem looking at recipes and cookbooks. In recent weeks I have observed the regular hoopla over the cookbook brought out by Gwyneth Paltrow, that waiflike actress who is now a full-time mother and foodie obsessed with replacing almost all normal stuff we call “food” with hard-to-find, unpronounceable ingredients. I have to say that while her cookbook looks good enough to eat (and I am sure there are many who would say the same about her!), her critics have been many. Despite all the criticism, folks, there is a four-month waiting period for her culinary magnum opus called It’s All Good: Easy Recipes that will make you look good and feel great. Described by the New York Post as a “manifesto to some sort of creepy healthy-girl sorority”, it is based on an elimination diet which is primarily low-carb and vegan. It is also meat-free and dairy free, and thus is fiendishly complicated for most of us who buy whatever is available in the market. The elimination list is long and the inclusion list is equally complex. Yet, everyone wants to buy the book. If nothing else it will give you a list of what not to make when you have guests coming to dinner… Imagine asking them, “Do you eat gluten- free flour, quinoa, harissa and gochujang… and oh, yes, I won’t serve coffee, tea or alcohol or tomatoes, corn, wheat, coffee, dairy, sugar, potatoes, eggplant and processed food.” Apparently, while most of her inventions taste quite fine, it is not only sourcing the ingredients but their price that will drive you crazy.
The conclusion? Obviously one doesn’t get to look like Ms Paltrow by cooking like her — the secret lies in another ingredient not connected to her cooking or eating. Her DNA.
…But on a more serious note, let’s spend a few moments remembering Ruth Prawar Jhabwala, the wonderful author and screenplay writer who died this week. Even though she was neither British nor Indian nor American, she managed to write about all these countries with a very acute eye, and with words that won her the Booker as well as two Oscars. Who can forget the extremely British screenplays, Howards End and Remains of the Day? The trinity of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawar Jhabwala had put India (and cinema about India) very firmly on the international map. Yet, it seems that over the years she had become disillusioned with India, even though she had originally come to it full of enthusiasm. Is that why the latter part of her life was spent abroad writing very different kinds of books? I do hope India will continue to remember her and her enormous contribution.

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