Title: Lessons in Chemistry
Author: Bonnie Garmus
Date Read: July 29, 2022
Two Feminist Snaps!
Special thanks to my cousin, Susan, for passing this gem along!
I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with the characters in this book, and I learned some more chemistry along the way as well! “That brings us to the third bond,” Elizabeth said, pointing at another set of molecules, “the hydrogen bond-– the most fragile, delicate bond of all. I call this the ‘love at first sight’ bond because both parties are drawn to each other based solely on visual information: you like his smile, he likes your hair. But then you talk and discover he’s a closet Nazi and thinks women complain too much. Poof. Just like that the delicate bond is broken. That’s the hydrogen bond for you, ladies– a chemical reminder that if things seem too good to be true, they probably are.”
Elizabeth Zott is a wonderfully appealing heroine; a talented and intelligent chemist sidelined by the misogynist and patriarchal limits of the 1960s culture in which she resides. As she explains: “…we’re by-products of our upbringings, victims of our lackluster educational systems, and choosers of our behaviors. In short, the reduction of women to something less than men, and the elevation of men to something more than women, is not biological: it’s cultural. And it starts with two words: pink and blue. Everything skyrockets out of control from there.”
But Elizabeth is too unflinchingly self-aware to let others, especially sub-par male chemists, hold her back. After being fired from her research position, she is depressed and desperate– and she unwittingly becomes the host of a television cooking show, Supper at Six.
Elizabeth is a remarkable feminist icon who would likely eschew the title. Transitioning from chemist to cooking show host– she defiantly swaps out the stock kitchen curios of the TV set for a streamlined lab in which to perform the chemistry of cooking. Listen in: “After you’ve rubbed the steak with a halved clove of fresh garlic… sprinkle both sides of the meat with sodium chloride and piperine. Then, when you notice the butter foaming” — she pointed to a hot cast-iron skillet — “place the steak in the pan. Be sure and wait until the butter foams. Foam indicates that the butter’s water content has boiled away. This is critical. Because now the steak can cook in lipids rather than absorb H20.”
In the novel, Zott’s TV cooking show has a powerful effect on her audience. She treats cooking as a chemistry, which of course it is, and gives her viewers instructions like: “combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride.” She is not only teaching women to cook, she is encouraging them to take control of their lives. So before her tag line sign off, “Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself!” Zott offers a thirty-minute, five-day-a-week lesson in life. And not in who we are or what we’re made of, but rather, who we’re capable of becoming:
“Whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change – and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what YOU will change. And then get started.”
Grab this one, you’ll love it.