Friday, October 24, 2014

women + cooking

If you know me, you know I love food. I love eating it, and I love cooking it. And if you know my spouse, you know cooking is something we love to do together, and something that we tend to share pretty equally in terms of household chores.

Yet, I know that other women aren't as lucky as I am to be married to someone who can pick up the slack when a meal is needed, and there can be a lot of guilt associated with the decisions made to feed one's family quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. And Virginia Heffernan's article "What If You Just Hate Making Dinner?" spells out that anxiety clearly as she relates her frustration with the new slate of cookbooks aimed at telling mothers to cook lest DISASTER befall their precious children.

I find this article fascinating, though I don't fully agree with it, because I am interested in the ways modern women are coping with changing domestic roles and home cooking. The world is changing, women are less frequently at home, yet the standards in place have yet to fully reflect the new social reality.  Heffernan notes the hyperbolic language these cookbook authors use to pressure their (female) readers to get back into the kitchen and make their families an organic, whole-wheat, homemade sandwich:
I don’t think there is ONE THING MORE IMPORTANT you can do FOR YOUR KIDS THAN HAVE FAMILY DINNER,” is how Ruth Reichl, of Gourmet, is quoted (italics and caps not mine) in “The Family Dinner,” by Laurie David, with recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt. Pomposity of this kind abounds in Laurie David books, and ultimately the books’ apotheosizing of home cooking is more memorable in its aggression than the somewhat meeker recipes (Easy Cheesy Dinner Frittata, Turkey Meat Loaf, Your Favorite Grilled Cheese). No one thing more important for children than family dinner? I might have put “send them to school” or “hug them occasionally” at the top of that list.
Heffernan's irritation at this kind of mother-guilt is warranted. At first, I was prepared to be frustrated with this article, but I realized that some people truly do not derive pleasure from cooking as I do. Heck, there are days when I'm grateful for a quick bite grabbed as I dash out the door, a bite not carefully crafting but thrown together from what is easy and convenient and meets my basic nutritional requirements. But since I have no children, no one is squinting at me for refusing to sacrifice time I don't have to make a homemade meal every night. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.

In the end, Heffernan exposes yet another way women are associated with domestic cooking as well as the censure they face if they reject the all-organic and homemade trends. After all, these books are targeted to women, and no clear efforts are directed to the other members of the household (men) who could contribute to the efforts to healthfully feed a family (be that family with or without children). No one faults a man for not knowing how to cook, but women face judgment and scrutiny if they admit to not knowing how to make a simple meal or confess a lack of interest in domestic concerns.

And I realize, once again, how lucky I am to have a partner who shares the cooking with me, and with whom cooking is a joy, not a burden.

1 comment:

Rick Miller, Jr said...

Our experience is much the same, in that sometimes it's mac and cheese with tuna when Vada doesn't feel like cooking but we try to have at least 1 good meal a week which usually involves BBQ. She does cook most of the meals, mainly because she is home more often than I am, but for lunch the girls tend to cook for themselves. I too like to cook, but the kids don't like my cooking because I don't like bland food. But they do love my BBQ, so I guess it all works out.

I had the opportunity to cook for a friend's family of girls who rarely get a home cooked meal, and it was a joy. I didn't cook anything fancy, but they acted as though they were eating ambrosia. Their single mom works full time and doesn't like to cook so I loved it. I can't imagine not loving to cook, there are so many flavors to try and different foods to explore, it's kind of like traveling to another country to try cooking dishes I've never tried before. I should read the article you referenced, it ought to be a good read. I suppose I never noticed a slant in cook books for the assumed female reader, but I might notice now.