Whisky and Peanuts
What is a body for? A recipe, and eating notes
Hello! My name is Rebecca May Johnson, I am a writer and cook and this is my Substack. This week’s newsletter is about whisky and peanuts and a note on the body, a recipe for sausages in tomato sauce, and eating notes.
Here is ‘the magic disco’ - an italo disco mix that my friend Iain made in 2007 when we lived in Berlin, which I listened to while I edited my book at precisely this time last year.
My first book SMALL FIRES, AN EPIC IN THE KITCHEN was published just over a month ago. The book received reviews in The Observer, The Sunday Times, the i Paper and The New Statesman. I read from it on BBC Radio 3 last week.
Whisky and Peanuts
What is a body for?
A few days ago, I was asked what I meant by ‘the abjection of the body’. The question was linked to a passage in my new book in which I describe how Nigella encourages readers and viewers to refuse the abjection of their bodies. That in Nigella’s writing about food, pleasure is the primary criterion for whether a dish is worth bringing into the world. Nigella says: a body is for experiencing pleasure. The image that came to mind when I thought about ‘abjection’ was of throwing the body away – through how we talk about it, and physically. The acceptance of food banks is abject. The decline of political interest in embedding systems of care is abject. The loss of bodily autonomy is abject.
When the state needed people working in heavy industry to grow the UK economy, mainstream political culture placed importance on caring for their bodies. Even if limited in scope, there was acceptance of shared responsibility for ensuring those on low incomes could live without fear of poverty and poor health. In this context the National Health System was founded in 1948, welfare support, workplace canteens, and the School Milk Act to provide free milk to everyone under 18 in 1946. An average of 126 000 new social homes built every year in the three decades following WWII. As the jobs that people do have become less physical, bodies have become less of a factor in economic growth, and political interest in physical health has declined. Since the 1980s the UK has seen the end of free milk in schools, the managed decline of the NHS, the selling-off of energy and water, the selling-off of social housing, the disappearance of lunch hours, the lack of sick pay for zero-hour workers (etc). As bodies have ceased to be central to economic growth, we have seen systems of care decline severely.
Political concern for the body must not be based on its ability to perform existing or future forms of waged work. As jobs that require the body become outmoded, we must still care for bodies. The life of the body beyond its ability to perform a job must be at the centre of political dreams. Pleasure and bodily autonomy on their own terms – for all. I think of words that Sophie Lewis read from her new book at the LRB Bookshop last week –
To love a person is to struggle for their autonomy as well as for their immersion in care, insofar such abundance is possible in a world choked by capital.
What is a body for?
For whatever you want.
How do we find out what we want?
Investigate! Every time I eat something that gives me pleasure, I find out a little more. The body is also for what you want in a world that is not-yet. When I read, I am scouting for experiments I can conduct to expand the answer. The poet Holly Pester recently reminded me of the importance of language as a tool for speculation. I had forgotten – thinking about food and how I like to taste it – of reading and writing things into existence. Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.’ Woolf’s dish has had a hold on me since I read it in her diary a few years ago.
And now, whisky and peanuts.
Yesterday I read these lines (from the forthcoming book, Living Rooms) written by my partner Sam about his grandmother Ann, with whom he lived as a child, and they felt like an insight into something good –
I love going in to her study to find her asleep at her desk, to tell her that there is a small glass of whisky waiting for her and a dish of peanuts to mark the end of the day. Head fallen forward, adrift mid-sentence in one of her dozens of notebooks.
The body is for writing in notebooks and dozing and drinking whisky and eating peanuts. And for reading about whisky and peanuts and imagining what they taste like. Politics is for making a world where everyone has the time to find out what such pleasures are for themselves, and the opportunity to take them.
What is your body for?
Recipes and eating notes below
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to dinner document by Rebecca May Johnson to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.