Women, Food and Feminism

So, I am late.

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, and folks were supposed to be blogging against sexism.

Oops.

I was abed, asleep and sickly all day.

So, here I am, all late and wrong, not to write about sexism, because, while I could talk about rampant sexist behavior in professional kitchens (a tradition that is fading as more women enter professional kitchens, educated and great cooks in their own right, and as more students graduate from culinary school where the chefs have beaten sexist tendencies out of them), I don’t so much feel like writing an angry essay. And it would be an angry one, because sexist behavior is infuriating.

So, instead, because I was inspired by Raspberry Sour’s post on the topic yesterday, I want to take up the gauntlet she threw down and talk about women, food and feminism.

She quite correctly correlates the rise of feminism, and the entry of large numbers of women into the workforce with the accelerated growth of the use of processed convenience foods and the overwhelming popularity of fast food restaurants and take out as replacements for home-cooked meals.

When women go to work, they step out of the kitchen, and that seems to be that.

Or is it?

When we talk about two-income households, there is often discussion of “equal sharing” in the household chores between the spouses. However, the reality of the situation is that while many of today’s men are doing more of the childcare chores than was the case in the past, most of the housecleaning/shopping/food preparation falls to women, or at least, that is the case if one believes the statistics quoted by Linda Hirshman in her recent article, “Homeward Bound” for the American Prospect Online.

She postulates that while the glass ceiling in education and the workplace has effectively been shattered by the concerted efforts of feminists in the US, there has been very little change in the actual structure of our families and society. This stands to reason: it is easier to attack gender inequality on campus and in the marketplace because of the possiblity of governmental and judicial intervention; however, when it comes to private lives, none of us wants Big Brother or Big Sister telling us how to live and relate to each other. (And rightly so.) Without the assistance of the courts and the legislatures, it is a very slippery operation for feminists to plunge into the depths of the American psyche and monkey around with the way in which men and women relate to each other in a household setting. Furthermore, I would say that such sweeping changes cannot be accomplished quickly and easily, simply because that is now how human societies evolve naturally.

Social evolution is by nature a slow process because we are dealing with a complex set of interactions on both small and grand scales. Without resorting to violence, experiments in totalitarian government, sweeping economic or educational programs, the possibility of quickly reshaping social systems is doomed to failure. This is both frustrating and comforting. It is frustrating, because there are inequalities that very much need to be addressed on personal and societal levels. It is comforting, because it attests to the strength and stability of human institutions–that it takes huge messy things like wars and rumors of war to disrupt them.

But I have moved far afield from the kitchen.

When women leave the home for the workplace, they often leave behind the kitchen, and in doing so, we see intense growth in the “home meal replacement” industry which includes take-out businesses, huge prepared-food departments in grocery stores, aisles of frozen and boxed convenience foods, fast food restaurants lining our city streets, and scads of “personal chefs” starting their own businesses. Along with this growth, we see the growth in girth of ourselves and our children, with record numbers of obese kids developing type II diabetes, a life-threatening disease with serious consequences with is entirely preventable.

What is a woman to do in this environment? If she is a working mother, should she eschew the convenience of fast food and make sure to cook at least four or five meals a week for her kids? (Or, should Dad do it? There is some statistical evidence to suggest that more and more men are taking up in the kitchen in the US where women have left off, which is a good thing, in my book.)

If she does cook for her kids, how can she make the time to do so, when she is also carting them to their sports practice, piano lessons, play dates and doing housework on top of it all?

And then, there is the question of what if she doesn’t know how to cook for the kids?

A good question.

I am certain that no one is going to be surprised at my answer. I say–women should go back to the kitchen, taking husbands and kids with her, and everyone can learn to cook together.

Record numbers of young adults in our country have no clue how to cook even the simplest things, like say, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or even grilled cheese sandwitches without having a minor kitchen disaster. This is because many people grew up without Moms or Dads who cooked. We used to learn at Mom’s side, and just in case Mom was a wretched cook, there was always that Home Economics class to take up the slack. Except, very few schools offer Home Ec anymore, certainly not as a requirement, and seldom as an elective.

How do these people feed themselves? They heat frozen stuff up in the microwave, they eat at McDonald’s and they gobble up Pop-Tarts. We know that this is not good.

Hie thee hence to the kitchen, Moms, I say. Make dinner time QT–quality time–with the family. If Mom doesn’t know how to cook, maybe Dad does. If Dad doesn’t maybe Mom does, and if neither do, then there is always Food TV to help.

Rachel Ray and Alton Brown will hold their hands and help them out–Ray is popular for a reason, you know, and it isn’t just because she is perky and cute. She’s popular because she is a klutz in the kitchen, but she proves to overworked parents that by darned, even clumsy people can throw down and cook a meal in thirty minutes that is tasty and filling and comes from mostly real ingredients.

Am I then, an anti-feminist?

Uh, no. Actually, I see nothing anti-feminist about cooking with the family.

Notice I said, “cooking with,” not “cooking for” the family.

It seems like a small distinction, but it isn’t. The implications of my change in one small word are huge.

If a woman cooks for her family, even if she chooses to, she is stepping into a traditional female role. I have done this many times, and I don’t mind it, because to me, cooking is as personally satisfying as sitting down and creating a piece of art, or writing an essay. It is an expression of my own creative spark, my self, and is a gift that I give to those I love. That is fine for me, but for a lot of women, cooking for others is their own personal version of hell. They don’t like it, they resent it and the chore chafes on them like an invisible yoke. For these women, I do not advocate that they step into that traditional female role, unless they bring the entire family into the kitchen with them.

Why?

Because I believe that every individual should know the basics of cookery so that they can, when they grow up, feed themselves and others a basically healthy diet without resorting to the use of processed ingredients which are of dubious economic and nutritive value.Parents, meaning both Moms and Dads, are responsible for feeding our offspring food upon which they can thrive and grow into healthy adults, and research has found that healthy eating habits are most likely to last throughout life when they are formed at home and modelled by both parents. Eating together as a family has proven health and educational benefits for children; I would argue that it has social benefits for the entire family, in that it strengthens relationship bonds and fosters familial closeness.

Besides, I think that in our zeal to drive our kids around to playdates, soccer practice, drama club, and debate team, all of which are meant to foster the emotional and educational growth of our kids, we have forgotten that the physical health of our kids is just as important. Good nutrition is a basis for physical health, and who is better at teaching good eating (and cooking) habits to our kids but parents? In my world, I see nothing wrong with forgoing a night or two of outside activities so that kids can stay home, and cook and eat with the family.

That is my prescription for the ills of society. Women, men and children should come back to the kitchen and learn to cook together. It won’t fix everything, of course. It won’t change who does the laundry, the fact that South Dakota has outlawed most forms of abortion and the fact that lots of folks are still homeless in Louisiana while our federal government dithers and points fingers and places blame. It won’t address the fact that women, on average still make a fraction of what men make in the marketplace.

But, it might make a dent in the number of kids who are obese, who have developed type II diabetes, and who have no clue how to cook beyond putting a box of lasagne in the microwave and pushing a button.

It might make us value our families a little more. It might make us look for family fun in a place that had previously only been the home of drudgery and food fights. It might make us laugh with each other (and at each other, too) as we struggle to gain useful life skills together.

Cooking and eating together is a family value, and is one that should not be considered conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive, sexist or feminist.

It should just plain old be valued.

23 Comments

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  1. First let me applaud you on an excellent well written post. It screamed common sense and really brought home the concept of the Woman leaving the home.

    While I realize you focus on the kitchen it’s worthwhile to mention that Women’s Liberation didn’t just hamper the edible selection of our lifestyles. It also took women away from their children. The biggest effect our society has seen from this is that children have been left to be raised by daycares, televison sets and people that don’t know how to infuse integrity, discipline, and moral judgement.

    The direct effect of this is that society is crumbling under the weight of post baby boomer generations that are lacking intrinsic social skills and a corrupted sense of self. I do put the responsibilty of this issue directly on the shoulders of the Feminist Movement.

    That being said the solution has to arrive from all of us. There is no turning back (nor should there be) to 50 years ago. The housewife/caregiver/mother of years past is gone forever. It’s time that everyone stepped up to the plate to help fill that void, and it’s a void that MUST be filled. Unless we as individuals start taking responsibility our society will continue down a path that will lead to eventual collapse.

    Thankyou for your well thought out post again, While not meaning to derail your thoughts on the kitchen I did find it important to expand it to our children as well.

    Comment by Cynical Patriot — March 9, 2006 #

  2. No, there is no going back to the stay at home housewife of fifty years ago, nor should there be. (Though, as Hirshman rightly pointed out, there are a lot of women who choose to stay home with the kids if they have the financial means to do so.)

    However, I will point out that not every Mom back in the day was a stay-at-home Mom. During WWII, all of the Rosies-The-Riveters were not unmarried women nor grandmas. Many of them were married, with kids…and they still did their bit in the defense and munitions plants. They dropped kids off at grandma’s house, or they and their husbands (the ones who also worked in the munitions plants) would have opposite shifts so someone was home with the kids, or they had day care with a neighbor lady (that would have been my Gram–she took care of the neighbors’ kids while they worked.)

    Moms working outside of the home has been an economic reality thoughout history for certain segments of the population. (I’m talking about the working poor and lower classes of our society, whom Hirshman ignores in her article.) The big move away from home and into the workplace happened with the middle and upper classes–and that is what has caused the great shift in our society.

    Kids alternately get short shrift in the US, and are revered above all other human beings. Many laws are enacted in our society to protect kids, yet our education system is underfunded and in shambles. We don’t want to leave any child behind, yet many kids are living in homes where hunger is an issue–and funding for our school lunch programs, WIC and food stamps programs are being cut. We have rising rates of juvenile obesity, because we are so worried about kids reading, we have no phys ed in schools anymore, and it simply isn’t as safe as it used to be for kids to run outside and play in most urban settings.

    The big picture is a dismal one, frankly.

    What to do about it? I think that US citizens need to understand that it really does take a village to raise a child–and that doesn’t mean that we all have to agree and move in the same direction, but it means that we all have to care about each other’s children. All of them.

    The rich and the poor. The ones in the middle. Black, white, yellow and red. The ones who speak English and the ones who don’t. We have to genuinely give a darned what happens to these kids and then allocate resources to genuinely helping.

    Each citizen needs to learn to make choices within their own families which are beneficial to the family and to the community, and then, collectively, community members need to learn to make decisions that benefit all kids.

    Not just some.

    And–if we are to have stay at home Moms, or stay at home Dads (my uncle was a proud stay at home Dad when his kids were little), then we should VALUE the actions of these people and not belittle them, and there should be community programs that help them, not hinder them.

    Comment by Barbara — March 9, 2006 #

  3. Great post, Barbara. You’ve hit a very particular nail on the head – that these things will not change (convenience foods and the mentality that they create) until people assign to meals the proper value or level of importance, both nutritionally and socially.

    Comment by Dawna — March 9, 2006 #

  4. I was going to leave this as a comment, but then I thought you might not
    appreciate my mentioning other websites on your blog. Several years ago I
    “discovered” http://flylady.com/ (Marla Cilley)and through her found Leanne
    Ely of http://savingdinner.com/. Leanne is a nutitionist whose personal
    mission is to get people back to the dinner table. I subscribed to her
    MenuMailers for a year and still get her Healthy Eating newsletters.

    Everything you said in your post is the absolute truth. So many people
    either can’t cook, don’t have the time to cook, or hate to cook, dinner. I
    fell into the last group. Cooking was just another “job” I had to do and I
    resented every minute of it. It seemed like every day at 5:30 I was
    standing with the refrigerator door open and wondering just what I
    was going to make for supper! Leanne taught me how to make a menu and how
    to shop for those items once a week. It sure takes a lot of stress out of
    “what’s for supper”.

    I just thought you might like to know that there is someone out there trying
    to accomplish what you suggested.

    Comment by Sally — March 9, 2006 #

  5. Record numbers of young adults in our country have no clue how to cook even the simplest things, like say, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or even grilled cheese sandwitches without having a minor kitchen disaster. This is because many people grew up without Moms or Dads who cooked.

    I learned to cook from my mom and reading Joy of Cooking cover-to-cover as a child (I was a little odd, I guess), well enough to get by. I didn’t really start learning to cook until after my sophomore year of college, when I was living on my own. My junior year, I was living with people who found mac’n’cheese from a box “hard” and who were awed by my ability to make stirfry without a recipe!

    It is sad. I also think it’s sad that, when I was growing up, my dad occasionally made breakfast, but that was it. Before I was born, my parents cooked together. After, my dad expected my mom to do the traditional child-rearing homemaking thing (and he was retired for most of my childhood, so I’m not sure what his excuse for sitting around reading while my mom — and later both of us — cooked and cleaned was). After my parents got divorced, my mom essentially did not cook for years — she ate sandwiches and salads and occasionally made some soup — because she was so tired of cooking all the time (and cooking to fit my dad’s Fad Diet of the Year, mostly).

    So I am heartily behind cooking with the family. Older children can definitely carry some of the cooking, and younger children can help. There’s no excuse whatsoever for the father not to cook on occasion. And the ones not cooking can do the dishes.

    Comment by Mel — March 9, 2006 #

  6. Oh, Barbara. So eloquent, and so resonant with my own heart.

    I want to add something else: Long before the Women’s Liberation movement encouraged (upper and middle-class) women to move from the home into the professional workplace, the Industrial Revolution moved a vast number of men and some women from home- and farm-based work to mining or factory jobs. Children suffered then, too.

    And most women have always worked, even long before the Industrial Revolution; most were able to work with babies on their backs or by their sides, chopping wood or planting rice or what have you needed for survival as a farmer or hunter/gatherer. Except for a brief spasm of recent history, the mum whose duties consist entirely of homekeeping and childrearing is a cherished myth.

    Framing childcare, work leave and related topics as “women’s issues” reduces these problems to a debate irrelevant to everyone except for the families of poor women who end up hired to do the work, and rich families that can afford to hire them; moreover, it ignores men who lose out on childrearing and children who lose guidance and closeness with both parents, not just mum. This really is, as you say, about the future of all of us.

    Comment by persimmon — March 9, 2006 #

  7. I totally agree with you that women should cook with their families, though it never would have occurred to me. I have another reason that you didn’t mention.

    My mother died when I was 14. She had been a housewife, and was the only person in the house who knew how to cook. For the next three years, my father cooked steaks, hamburgers, and ready-made meals, until I swore I could never take another hamburger and took over the cooking. No one I knew knew how to cook. Any relatives that cook live at least a days drive away. I got a little teaching from one of my father’s girlfriends, but after he broke up with her and took up with a woman who, as fond as I am of her, does not cook, I taught myself to cook from cookbooks and the internet. And I know I still have a lot of utterly weird gaps in the basics just because I learned how to follow recipes, and not how to coordinate multiple dishes, or what half the gadgets my mother had are actually used for.

    And frankly, as the only cook in the house, there are times that I just get incredibly sick of cooking. And there are times when I just want to cook a new and interesting dessert (because I love baking, and for the most part just kind of mildly enjoy cooking) but know that I’ll then have to cook dinner right after and don’t want to. Or, like right now, I’ll catch a cold that’ll last for a month and deal with my family whining about lack of food while I’m coughing up my lungs.

    Comment by Gillian — March 10, 2006 #

  8. Ah, Barb. Memories, memories. I remember watching my mother cook, but not really taking it in. She was, as you know, a wonderful cook–creative, good with making do, and great at improvising..but she was impatient, in a hurry, and found it easier to do things herself than to watch fumble-fingered me make things. So I grew up watching a fine cook, but unable to cook anything decent other than fudge, which, for some reason, never turned out for my mother. She could not make fudge to save her life, so I ended up the supreme fudge queen. When I lived on my own, I got tired of Campbell’s Soup, Boyardee Ravioli, and poached eggs..and finally began to cook. I must have picked things up by mental osmosis, because it came together. I had a hard time with bread for awhile…As for Cuban food, my taste of it in Tampa was a revelation. Who knew?? Cuban bean soup…to die for. I have discovered a way to cook but not cook…even though I work, I can make three or four dishes at once over the weekend, and there’s enough for the week!! And, if I had kids, they’d be right there doing it all with me.

    Comment by yourauntjudy — March 10, 2006 #

  9. Lots of great comments here–I appear to have struck a chord. Dawna–I agree that people have lost sight of the fact that food is not mere nutrition or fuel, but that it has a social and spiritual component as well that is very important to the development of children and the bonds of a family. I hope that people will begin to realize this again, and return at least to eating dinner together a few nights a week.

    Sally, thank you for posting those resources. One of the beautiful things about blogs is that they are a conversation between the blogger and commentors, and on both sides, there is information to be shared. I value input from everyone here–welcome and thank you very much for posting those links.

    Mel, I think that part of the popularity of Food TV has to do with the number of people who grew up without parents who cooked, so they watch the shows to learn what they didn’t learn at home.

    As for your Dad not cooking after the kids were born–that is odd, isn’t it? I think that Hirshman covers that, though, in her essay–that when there is unvalued work to be done in the household, the lower-status individual is the one to whom it falls. The idea of women’s work is still well alive in the households of our country today, and so it is a problem for many families. I bet that your situation with your Dad ceasing to cook was not so unique. I wonder if your mother ever asked him to cook again?

    Persimmon–it is great to see you here again–that is one thing that people don’t seem to realize historically about the second wave of the Women’s Movement in the US–that it was essentially a move to get middle and upperclass women into the workforce. You are absolutely correct that women of other classes and races worked long before there was women’s liberation, and they had kids, too. I mentioned that in my reply to the first comment here.

    Children often suffer.In US society, they are alternately held in high esteem or relegated to the bottom of the status totem pole–it is a rather schizophrenic way in which we see them. We by turns neglect them and overprotect them–it is very unhealthy and odd. But then, I have very radical views of childhood and parenting–which now is probably not the time to get into them, but I recongnize that my views of children are not the norm, so I usually get into these discussions where I shock people.

    But yes–food is important, and not just because it fuels our bodies and minds, but also because it feeds our souls. I just wish more people would “get” that.

    Gillian–I applaud you for learning to cook in adversity. It is a shame that your Dad also didn’t try to expand his knowlege, but that is the way some people are–they can eat the same things over and over again. Not me, nor you, either, apparently.

    It may not be cool for a food blogger to say this, but I understand how you can get sick of cooking. Though I love cooking and kind of like baking–we are opposites–I do sometimes get in a rut where I don’t feel like cooking. Luckily, the sixteen year old daughter can step up and cook a few things and do well with them, so I am not the only cook in the house. Zak might even take a hand now and again, though he still is very wary of my knives–they are very sharp and they make him nervous.

    Aunt Judy!

    Gram when you were growing up sounds like Mom when I was growing up–too impatient to let us into the kitchen. I was lucky–when I started wanting to actually cook–I think I was twelve or thirteen–Gram said I could come to her house once a week and cook dinner for her and Pappa, and she would help if I asked, and look at the recipes and make sure they would work, but mostly, she stayed out of it. I made them my first omelettes! (From St. Julia, whom I had checked out of the library, of course!)

    (Now, I am trying to remember what was in the omelettes–I think it was steamed broccoli, sauteed chicken and mornay sauce…but I am not sure. I just remember that Pappa said, “Well, Doll, it looks like we’re gonna have fancy breakfast for supper….”)

    Pappa was amazingly patient with all of my experimenting. Much like my father, when I came home from culinary school and started whipping up Portuguese sausage and eggplant dishes and cream of potato and pesto soup for supper. He liked all of it, but was somewhat horrified at the richness of everything….oh, and he ate the artichoke parmesan pasta sauce, too. Mom was floored. He ate it and liked it.

    I was lucky. Gram gave me instruction, Grandma gave me instruction, when you visited and made stuff, you taught, and I got to watch you, Mom, Aunt Sis and Aunt Nancy all cook–all of you excellent cooks.

    I think that we all learn from osmosis as children–it is probably as important to let kids watch cooking and other household activities like gardening as it is to out and out teach them. I know that by the time Grandpa went to teach me how to clean fish, I had seen it so many times, I could do it on the second try, slick and neat as anything. The only thing I had trouble with was cutting the heads off of catfish to kill them and that was because my hands weren’t strong enough to hold them. But bluegills and small bass I could do on my own. Boy was he proud! The same went for when I finally took to making yeast bread–I had seen Grandma knead it so many times, my hands knew the dance already. I just had to let them do it and not get in the way.

    Ah–see–I meant it when I said everyone loves Cuban food! Black bean soup is divine, utterly divine. One of my favorite soups, for certain!

    Cooking lots on the weekend and then portioning it out is the way that personal chefs work–we make enough for two weeks in one day and then portion it out for the two weeks and refrigerate and freeze it for the clients. All it takes is some organization and maybe a pressure cooker or slow cooker to get a bunch of stuff going at once. That way, there is nutritious, delicious food all week, and you can spend time with the family after work and not be too knocked out. It is a great system.

    Comment by Barbara — March 10, 2006 #

  10. hi barbara,
    great writing ! i always admire your writing style.

    i come from a family in which men happily took up the spoons and spatulas. my father, grand-father, brother (cousin, in fact), brother-in-laws, and finally my own hubby – all fantastic cooks. the women had to strive hard to keep up with them !

    i never learnt to cook at home. my mother indulgently and purposefully, never led me and my sister into the kitchen, ignoring the warning of the elders common in india, teach the girls to cook, they are to live in another family. girls are supposed to fall under the life-or-death scrutiny and supervision of the mother-in-law.

    but my mother always held out that intelligent people can always learn to cook, whenever they feel the necessity. it was true. i started cooking when i started living alone. luckily i had friends who loved cooking, who loved good food. now, my hubby, an artist, loves cooking. in one of his catalogues, he has given kitchen as one of his favourite spaces. he loves the kitchen so much that i don’t know where the spices sit.he keeps rearranging them often, to suit his mood.

    i love keeping the kitchen neat and orderly. a clean kitchen alone can bring prosperity into the household, i believe. in india, kitchen is considered as a revered place, like the puja room. earlier, menstruating women were not allowed to enter the kitchen, as they would ‘pollute’ the kitchen. many people still practise this, though our home had never had such rules.

    in earlier days, people belonging to lower castes were also not allowed to enter the kitchens.

    the history of food in india, and in kerala is intricately linked with caste, religion and faith. i am attempting to study that history, which still remains to be written.

    may be, one day i could write a book on that !
    cheers.
    renu

    Comment by renu — March 10, 2006 #

  11. barbara what you said ring so true! i believe in women having the liberty to do anything they want. but for me, when it comes to cooking, it is for love! it is a joy and pleasure that everyone in the family should enjoy together. i never have such luck as both my parents do not cook and i spent many years eating catered food. the horror! i picked up the interest of cooking and making good and nutritious food from “somewhere” i guess, and i looked up to my grandparents and my nanny. it is always great that the family would come back just for dinner when they know something nice would be on the table. what more to bring a family together?

    Comment by rokh — March 10, 2006 #

  12. I and three other exptariate cooks all did posts on this subject, but without much reference to the USA.
    The truth is, being somewhat poor helped me teach my kid about food and cooking when I was in university and a divorced mother. I had to get creative and eating together and with our friends was practically all the social life we had. Today she is one of the few career women I know who cooks real food all the time.
    The reality is that all over the world women are presumed to have the responsibility to get the food as well as prepare it. When the kids are starving, she feels like she’s killing them. All over the world there are still traditions that the men eat first, if there is food, and the females eat if there’s any left. In my adopted country, Italy, there were many generations of women who survived on wine and bread among the poor.
    Hungry people have no problem getting the family around the food. It’s those rich enough for 4 times a week after school activities that sacrifice what may the most civilizing influence there is for a kid.

    Comment by Judith — March 11, 2006 #

  13. Very well said Barbara.

    I actually feel pretty strong about families cooking together. We didn’t as kids, but I’ve taken to sticking around the kitchen whenever I’m back at home–it’s far more satisfying knowing how your meal is coming together than just dumping it onto your plate. Funny, even my dad helps out from time to time now–but never when we were young. I think to some degree I’ve influenced him–or guilted him, either way it’s nice to have these changes.

    Although I’m single now, whenever there has been someone in my life, I tended to try to get that person involved in putting a meal together–it was romantic and brought us together even if we burnt it. Which we did, many times.

    Comment by Rose — March 11, 2006 #

  14. Hi Barb, wow, I’m deeply flattered to have inspired a post. And such an eloquent one- thank you for taking up the torch and coaxing my hurriedly scribbled flames into something so much more. I’d been feeling badly that I didn’t have the time to write more (once upon a time, I would have stayed up all night, churned out several thousand words, and handed it over to a prof at the very last second, but those days have long passed), and am so glad to see that it went somewhere.

    Reading through everyone’s comments, I can only add that it both saddens and heartens me to see what a conflicting thing cooking has become for many of us. For me, being with someone brings out the nurturing tendencies, and so I’m always juggling that with a fear of being “the woman.” Luckily, my lovely man has a love for cooking, so now we cook together sometimes, or other times we take turns, depending who’s feeling up to it. But it’s never easy.

    Comment by Raspberry Sour — March 11, 2006 #

  15. Sometimes I think that the piano lessons, soccer practice, debate team, and ballet classes are taking up so much time that kids aren’t learning how to be productive, self-sufficient adults. Parents assign fewer chores because the kids have less time, and you wind up with kids who not only can’t cook, but can’t clean either. I’ve met people my age who are incapable of making beds, doing a load of laundry, and vacuuming (seriously, this girl didn’t know that you can’t use a vacuum cleaner if it’s locked in upright position — it was sad). They’re sure good at soccer, though, or at least at hackysack.

    I learned to cook from my mother, but I’m an extreme rarity; at 23, I am one of the few people my age I’ve encountered who knows how to cook from scratch, and one of only two or three who can cook without a recipe (aside from that initial glance to confirm that one’s crazy idea is within the realms of possibility).

    Oh, and I have a story of poor nutrition for you:

    One of my friends doesn’t like to eat foods that don’t come out of a box. His devotion to Easy Mac and Totino’s pizza rolls is impressive, if a bit terrifying. He once turned down a batch of my homemade meat sauce in favor of Hamburger Helper. A Philistine, in short, and skinny as a rail (damn him).

    Last winter, he started bleeding from the gums. His girlfriend, in pre-med at the time, began force-feeding him Mandarin oranges, and the bleeding stopped.

    Diagnosis: scurvy.

    In the 21st century, a white, upper-middle-class male, student at a posh liberal arts college, developed scurvy because he would not eat anything that did not come out of a box.

    This is what we’re dealing with. Now I know this guy had the same health class we all do in this state, and I know he studied basic nutrition and that stupid triangle thing and Why Vitamins Are Good, so it’s not even a matter of ignorance. It’s just that, when you’ve been indulged your whole life with heavily salted, artificially flavored, running-with-grease foods, nothing else tastes as good.

    Comment by Sibyl — March 12, 2006 #

  16. Renu–I would very much like to see a book on the history of food and the kitchen in Kerala; there is the very scholarly book by K.T. Achaya called simply Indian Food, but that is the only one I know that is a comprehensive few of the history of Indian food. Unfortunately, I also believe it is out of print.

    I agree with you that the kitchen is a sacred place, and to have it clean and orderly is a blessing, and brings prosperity. It is where I go to pray and meditate.

    I also agree with your mother that any intelligent person who wants to learn to cook can. It only takes determination and an ability to taste.

    Thank you, rokh! I know that some people whose parents do not cook still pick up the interest, often as kids and learn to become wonderful cooks. It is all about determination and taste, as I just said.

    Judith–I have lived where the only social life is friends eating together! It is also not a bad way to raise a kid–the child grows up not only with Mom and dinner every night but the benefit of an extended family of friends and their conversation to enrich the child. I think it is good for kids to be around intelligent, creative adults.

    One of the weird things about American food I have noticed is the rise of “kids’ food:” processed items that are marketed towards kids. It used to be cookies, cereal and Kool-Aid, but now, there are all sorts of heavily processed foods marketed to kids, such that a lot of parents I know make separate meals for thier kids. This I cannot imagine, as my Mom never did that for me. The most she would do was make a hamburger instead of hamburger gravy for me or something like that. If I didn’t like dinner–too bad–I didn’t eat.

    I think that these processed foods are bad for kids and family eating, too, and harder on parents–even though as “convenience” foods, they are meant to save time. But, making two separate meals, even if one comes from the microwave, is not time-saving, or less work, in the long run.

    Rose–my Dad has taken to doing more of the cooking now that he is retired and Mom works. He enjoys it, too. I encourage him with cookbooks and cooking tools as Christmas presents. Don’t worry about the reason why your Dad is in the kitchen, just rejoice in it!

    Raspberry–thank you for inspiring me!

    It is interesting to see the conflicting thoughts and emotions around women and cooking…I am fascinated with all the different perspectives brought to this discussion by readers who all come from vastly different backgrounds. This is part of what makes blogging so much fun.

    Sibyl–your friend with the boxed food fetis scares me. I have no doubt that there are more of him about–I think that people who have eaten mostly artificially flavored food do not like the taste of natural foods at all, and this has changed the tastes of society in general. When I ate at McDonald’s for the first time in over five years last month, I sat and carefully tasted the cheeseburger, and analyzed the flavor and could discern no meat taste at all, really. The bun was very sweet, as was the ketchup–which was an overpowering flavor. The onions were strong, but tasted fake because they are dehydrated and rehydrated. The pickle is salty and the cheese had a vaguely salty, fatty, cheesish flavor that was very strong. I finally took a taste of the meat patty alone, and could barely taste meatish bits of flavor.

    But the fries tasted of salt and something brown–not potato. Some other flavor that is probably part of the complex of artificial flavors in it. But it tasted of oil and salt, primarily. Everything tasted salty, sweet and fatty.

    And I think of all the people who eat there every day and they like it. And I think–what would these people think of what I cook? Probably not much.

    FWIW–as soon as you said he had bleeding gums, I knew it was scurvy. Scary, but not unheard of, actually, on college campuses. There were a couple of anorexic girls in my freshman year of college eating dorm food who had scurvy. They lived in my dorm, on my floor, which is how I heard about it.

    Sad, isn’t it?

    Comment by Barbara — March 12, 2006 #

  17. Anorexic girls with nutritional deficits, I can see — they’re not eating much of anything, so it sort of stands to reason that they’d have problems without a serious multivitamin. But people who eat? Who eat quite a bit, actually, and spend a good deal of money on processed convenience foods and fast-food takeout? I was floored. Isn’t all this stuff pumped full of artificial vitamins (excuse me, “enriched”) to replace the vitamins that got bleached and fried and processed out?

    If this vastly unhealthy food at least came with one’s daily recommended allowance of nutrients, we might get somewhere. As it is, I’m waiting for an epidemic of gout to hit the nation’s urban poor.

    McDonald’s fries used to be flavored with beef fat, until a class lawsuit put a stop to that — though I believe the pesky stuff keeps showing up in there now and again, to the dismay of Hindus and vegetarians everywhere. At the moment, I think they’re using an artificial beef-fat flavoring, which is probably that brown taste you noticed.

    Comment by Sibyl — March 13, 2006 #

  18. I grew up with my dad as the primary cook, so it surprises me how many people still assume that women do all the cooking in the home. We were also required to limit our activity schedule to allow us to be at family dinner most nights of the week- I think it brought me good balance in high school. I always saw the cooking process, too, as I did my homework in the kitchen, so I wasn’t scared of it when it became time to do it myself.

    Comment by mj — March 14, 2006 #

  19. A little late, but I had to add my voice to the chorus: great post. I got married and had children in the ’70s, and knew a lot of people who thought I shouldn’t be calling myself a feminist if I liked to cook (even having children was a little suspect to some). But I learned to cook from my mother, and wasn’t willing to give up homemade things that were better than anything I could get from a box or its equivalent.

    Comment by lucette — March 14, 2006 #

  20. It is hard to believe, but yes, there are people walking around with nutritional deficits in this country, and not just poor folks, either. The guy mentioned above sounds like an extreme case, but if he didn’t take nutritional supplements or drink anything with ascorbic acid in it–then, yes, he could get scurvy. Fairly easily, in fact.

    Scary stuff.

    I am afraid of what is in artifical beef fat flavoring, now that you mention it, but you are right, that is probably that which gives the fries the “vaguely brown” flavor that I noticed.

    Ick.

    mj–I think a lot of men cook, and have been cooking for a while, but it is just culturally ingrained in us to assume that women will cook or do the cooking–hence the view that some feminists have that if a woman chooses to cook, she is being anti-feminist. Blah on that, I say! (And up with your Dad, too–good on him!)

    Lucette–thanks for posting and welcome!

    I am that way, too–why pay money for something that isn’t as good as what I can make at home, more economically?

    Ah…we can tell that I grew up poor, sometimes. In my own way, I am intensely frugal.

    Comment by Barbara — March 14, 2006 #

  21. My mom certainly asked, and he’d make breakfasts occasionally, but it was hard enough to get him to stay home with me occasionally (for a man who’d had six kids before, he was strangely terrified of being temporarily responsible for a small child).

    My dad also tended to go through various fad diets that made food taste like cardboard, so whether we wanted him to cook was also something of an issue. The fad diets were a big part of why my mom got burned out on cooking, I think.

    Given that my dad grew up in the Depression and didn’t cook with his first wife, I’m more surprised that he cooked at all than that he stopped.

    But I am eternally grateful that my mom taught me the basics, even if I really learned to cook from cookbooks in college. It’s one of the most satisfying and useful skills one can learn, I think — what’s more basic than food? It makes me very happy seeing little kids learn to cook.

    Comment by Mel — March 19, 2006 #

  22. Hello, Mel!

    Fad diets are not fun–and I don’t think that they tend to be very good for people. Certainly not growing kids. And they don’t make cooking fun at all….ick.

    But, you are right–teaching little kids how to cook and enjoy food is both fun and useful. First of all, it is fun to teach kids something they can use in the rest of their lives, and also–there is much that kids learn from learning to cook. They learn math, they learn to follow instructions, they learn science, they learn culture. It is all good stuff. Secondly–to watch a kid’s enjoyment of food blossom is just amazing.

    I wish more kids learned to cook.

    Comment by Barbara — March 19, 2006 #

  23. I stumbled across this post while looking for a lasagna recipe. Let me just say, I agree with every point you make, and I think you are wonderful.

    Much love! :-)

    Comment by Jenn — June 23, 2011 #

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