The Big Idea: Jules Sherred
Posted on May 11, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 11 Comments
Cooking is for everyone, and Jules Sherred is reminding everyone of that with his new book Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook, which aims to help make the activity more accessible to those who might have previously felt excluded from it.
If you were to ask my publisher, the “Big Idea” for Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook is, a comprehensive guide for disabled and neurodivergent cooks. I’m glad the great folks who packaged my book were able to distill it to a logline because to me it’s a Gordian Knot of ideas.
It is that and it is an affirming space. It is that and a deconstruction of the colonization of food. It is that and it is a big middle finger to ableism. It is that and it is a cookbook that has the word “bullshit” in it because the messaging disabled people get is just that. It is that and it is the first major change to how cookbooks, more specifically recipes, have been written in nearly 100 years.
It is that and it is a response to being tired of and angry about being erased from spaces and being told the tools disabled people need to survive are horrible.
And I think I should start talking about this Big Idea with being tired. Also, angry. Incredibly angry. Incensed is the word I use in the introduction of the book, with emphasis.
I’m a fan of anger. Anger is neither negative nor positive. Anger simply is. It is what we do with that anger that can be negative or positive or neutral. My anger spurs me to action that tends to lead to change for the better. In this case, it started with a website and then became a book.
I was angry because I was in year five of being completely unable to cook for myself because of how my disabilities had progressed. In the “before times,” I was a guy who would easily cook for five hours for myself and guests. Losing the ability to cook killed part of my soul.
It wasn’t the loss itself that angered me. What angered me is there was this tool—an electric pressure cooker—that immediately remedied one of the biggest barriers I had to cooking. All my previous experiences with it were people telling me to buy one, followed immediately by them complaining about theirs. I was angry because what little resources I could find were written by able-bodied people and none of them worked for me.
I had this experience a lot, with a lot of different tools that able-bodied people shat all over. They were tools that allowed me to reclaim the kitchen. The disabled people I knew had the same negative impressions about these tools because of this “common knowledge.”
I had created a huge knowledge base of Crip Up the Kitchen’s subtitle: tools, tips, and recipes that I developed with disability in mind. All because I was angry. Then 2020 came and we all know what that means. A whole lot of people were realizing they were neurodivergent as their lives were upended, and we were all experiencing a traumatic mass disabling event.
Then I got the lightbulb moment that there needs to be a cookbook — and not just any cookbook.
The next part of this Big Idea involves a little bit of autistic hubris. I was going to change the way cookbooks were written.
Cookbooks are difficult enough to write, never mind sell on proposal to a publisher, when there already exists a template that has been the template for close to 100 years. I decided that it would be I who would change this. I convinced myself I could convince a publisher to allow me to throw out the style guide and let me do my thing. Wild, I know.
Who do I think I am? I spent so much time during the last three years yelling, “Who do you think you are?!” The part of me which is informed by trauma was at odds with the autistic part of me who gave myself a Nobel Prize in research in the middle of a report in Grade 4/4th Grade. Because I know when I have a great idea but having those great ideas sure did get me into a lot of trouble at home. I’m still waiting to get into that trouble for this book.
It had a massive impact on my writing.
I was breaking so many rules. My journey to publication wasn’t what is considered the “norm.” This also bothered my autistic sensibilities. It still does. I’m waiting for someone to tell me they changed their mind because they figured me out.
I had to push against that while keeping true to the part of me who knows when I’ve got something worthwhile, who, like many autistics, also loves a good info dump when they are passionate about something. Somehow, I managed to convince a publisher to let me info dump a special interest and in a way that wasn’t done before.
It isn’t as fun as it sounds. Because as much as I would have loved to create a multi-volume encyclopedia with the most arcane knowledge and all sort of minutiae, an accessible and saleable guide that does not make. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the five Ws plus the how. I had to figure out how to help the most people while keeping it at a page count that would be affordable to a target audience where money is often tight.
I had to do this pretty much on my own because I did an incredible job convincing a publisher that I was the person to write this book and I knew what I was doing. The solution, if you are interested, was to focus on common symptoms of disability, identify points of failure in the kitchen, and create solutions and strategies to manage those.
I love rules. I love guidelines. I love operating manuals. And I was foolish enough to convince someone to allow me to create much of it from scratch. It isn’t something I recommend if you are a “spoonie,” like me, who also has the same autistic sensibilities.
To complicate matters more, I have this quirk where I must write the entirety of something first in my head before I do the info dump into a Word doc. Plus, the revision process hurts my brain, real actual pain. I had to get it right the first download. I had a short window to write and submit the manuscript, create the images—because I was also the photographer and art director—and create the accessibility guide for everyone working on the book, knowing there would only be one quick round of edits.
It was a lot for the kid who gave himself a Nobel Prize on a 20-page report that was supposed to be 500 words because I was info dumping on a special interest. But who was also freaking out because, who the hell did I think I was to even propose this to begin with? My teacher loved the Nobel Prize by the way. My parent did not.
But I was the guy who got angry. I was the guy who then created a huge knowledge base of useful information. I was the guy who knew exactly how to turn that information into a lot of front matter and 50 recipes that teach skills that can be used beyond the book. I was the guy who was able to make it useful to the most people possible, while changing the way recipes are presented. And I was the guy who somehow convinced a publisher to let me do it.
Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Tricks for the Disabled Cook: Amazon Canada|Amazon USA|Amazon UK|Chapters Indigo|Barnes & Noble|Indie Bookstores in Canada|Bookshop|Powell’s
Author’s Socials: Website|Mastodon|Twitter|Instagram
I am sitting here simply sobbing. Feeling seen by a fellow spoonie. Thank you for this Big Idea Jules Sherred, and for managing to do something so massively important to so many.
Athena thank you for posting this Big Idea. You will have made people just like me feel seen. So appreciated.
Fantastic! Pre-ordered for my neurodivergent daughter who struggles with food prep and cooking. I love this idea so much!
Jules, I love this. Thank you so much for doing this work. Can’t wait to read and use the book.
Thanks, everyone, for the lovely comments.
I was asked on Twitter for some specific examples of some of the changes I made to how recipes are presented. Here is a recent TV interview I did that both talks about and shows them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEHkOkYKuTI
It is not an extensive list because there are a lot (for example, I don’t think I mention how I don’t hide steps within steps like is in the standard style guide) but it will give you a good idea.
Thanks for that YouTube link; I was just looking at the various book sites to see if there were examples of the recipes. Sounds like a great cookbook!
Jules! I remember you from the GeekDad days, and seeing this brought a smile to my face.
It’s not a book I need, but I’m glad someone wrote this for people who do. More importantly, I’m glad someone published it.
Thank you so much for this. Both of my honorary niblings are neurodivergent and love/are frustrated by cooking.
thanks so much for this Big Idea piece, and for the book itself. I have bought a copy for my friend with ADHD as an early birthday present <3
Wow! I’m impressed. Since you appear to have a barely-tapped cache of knowledge, I can see you writing a column some day. Congratulations!