As a disabled person who has experienced inaccessibility in the kitchen firsthand, Sherred—who lives in a household of neurodivergent people, himself included—has had to learn to navigate the kitchen in a wheelchair and with hand disabilities as his body has changed over time.
Sherred, who works as a food and lifestyle photographer, recipe developer, and journalist, produced the lush photography throughout the book. As a disability advocate as well, he was inspired to create this resource as part of his search for more disability representation in the kitchen and home garden. As a trans man, Sherred is also active in trans advocacy, including in response to conversion therapy.
“At a minimum, 25 percent of people are or will become disabled. And that’s the people who are willing to admit that they are disabled.”
It’s not all about eating, he says of the text. “I want to give [readers] some food for thought about the violence behind a lot of the food we eat,” Sherred said in a conversation with Civil Eats. He notes that while his home city of Duncan, British Columbia, is the “sixth-most expensive place to live in British Columbia,” it also has an incredibly high poverty rate, particularly in the Indigenous community.
Even as Sherred celebrates vibrant flavors, he acknowledges that cooking should also include thinking about food politics, such as Indigenous people being deprived of culturally appropriate foods.
The politics of the book also include personal body politics for a community that often feels unseen and unheard, especially in the kitchen, where hostile attitudes can make members feel unwelcome for using pre-chopped vegetables, specialty kitchen implements, and simplified recipes. For Sherred, accessibility is a priority as he adapts recipes to make them easier to read and discusses common dietary issues, meal planning, and how to decide which resources are most effective for his readers’ individual needs. “I want people to feel heard and seen and accepted,” he said.
Much of Crip Up the Kitchen draws upon immigrant culinary traditions thanks to the neighborhood where Sherred grew up and the Punjabi family that “adopted” him in his teens. Though he has Eastern European and British roots, the cookbook has a heavy focus on Thai and Punjabi food, with the goal of making these recipes more accessible to cooks who want flexible options.
For Sherred, a turning point was his introduction to an electric pressure cooker, which revolutionized the way he thought about cooking. This implement, plus the air fryer and bread machine, are the cornerstones of this text. Recipes include classic daal, a paneer recipe for those who want to make cheese at home, Thai green curry with chicken, and even an air fryer chocolate cake, all designed to be flexible and adaptable for disabled cooks (for example, leaving out chilis if a recipe is too spicy or swapping vegetables to accommodate dietary needs).
“Sharing is love,” he says. “Cooking for somebody is an act of love. This is an act of love. Here are my recipes . . . Let’s see each other.”
In your introduction, you talk about the kitchen as the “worst room.” Can you say more about that?
Because nothing about it is conducive to cooking when you’re disabled! Whether that be a physical disability, or some type of neurodivergence that makes navigating the [kitchen] “work triangle” difficult.
A really good example is my kitchen. I’m a wheelchair user. Counter heights [are hard], and even before I was a wheelchair user, I’m also a short lad. Unless you’re 5’6” or over, counters are not ergonomically built. It’s a literal pain in the wrists to be preparing at counters.
“I tried to include as many voices as possible and did my best to think of solutions for them.”
Even in my wheelchair, there’s technically enough room between the fridge and counter for [the building] code, but it’s really difficult to navigate safely around that corner. If I’m in my wheelchair and want to open the fridge, that’s impossible, because there’s no room. Even things like the distance to the stove, and the sink, and the fridge, it’s all now done for aesthetics instead of actual function. If you’re able-bodied, it makes no difference. If you’re somebody who’s disabled and has to use mobility aids in the kitchen, it’s unsafe.
Some people might not have the ability to work at a dining room table or an in-kitchen table, [which is] my recommendation [for people who can’t work in the kitchen]. Doing it on your lap is no bueno. That’s super dangerous. But [some people] have no choice—it’s either that or they don’t eat.
It can be really tough to find cookbooks and guidance targeted at disabled cooks. Why?
At a minimum, 25 percent of people are or will become disabled. And that’s the people who are willing to admit that they are disabled. I have a book launch event on Saturday, and one of my questions is, “Do you need any accommodations?” And there are so many people who say, “I’m able bodied, except for this, this, and this.” But they still consider themselves able bodied because society has made being disabled such a dirty thing. You are not [seen as] a whole person. You are less then. Ew! Like being dead is better than being disabled in a lot of people’s minds. Why would you want to make accommodations for something that is so gross and icky? If you have other experiences of marginalization, then that otherness is even more compounded.
It’s slowly starting to change, but 99.99 percent of stuff that is available is written by able-bodied people through a lens of trying to make a disabled person fit into an able-bodied box.
It is interesting that you mention accommodations, since that’s a real challenge for a lot of disabled people.
When I’m meeting with clients [in my capacity as a disability advocate focused on inclusion], I give specific examples, like I’m autistic and I need to take a 10-minute timeout every hour so I don’t melt down, because I get overstimulated. And I also have a spinal cord tumor and have to [take breaks often] so that the pain doesn’t become blinding. When I disclose, it makes it safer for other people to disclose, I find.
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Author: S.e. smith