Eating meat, some have noted, is a way of asserting masculinity. After all, some men may not cook at all, but they certainly won't hesitate to fire up a grill and burn some burgers into little hockey pucks or dry out some chicken (what L refers to as crimes against meat). In his book Cooked, Michael Pollan pointed out the male-dominated nature of meat-cookery, demonstrated most fully by barbecue competitions and the enthusiasm by which most men exhibit at the chance to eat, say, a steak. There's probably a reason some men I've encountered are horrified by the thought of being a vegetarian, and why more women then men are willing to adopt that lifestyle.
Of course, there are exceptions, but in a culture that values cisgendered expressions of identity, meat-eating becomes a way for (some) men to perform masculinity or assert their manliness through their food choices.
I set up this background to talk a bit more about the latest cooking memoir book I've sped through: Jared Stone's Year of the Cow. Here is a book that meets the requirements to belong to the genre I've been examining, yet he's the first male writer to be added to that list.
Of course, however, his foray into an overwhelmingly woman-dominated literary genre is by buying a whole cow and writing about how he cooked it and the impacts it had on his family.
I mean, just look at how the reviews discuss his book:
I mean, "high-octane" and "thinking-man's" and all that celebrating of meat. It fairly screams masculinity at the top of its lungs. And of course, Stone is a writer interested in domesticity--he talks about the delicious food he cooks, he shares his family life with his readers as he and his wife strive to raise their growing family in a high-pressure, busy, hectic world, and he gives recipes to celebrate the extraordinary cow he has purchased.A high-octane, thinking-man’s account of one guy’s quest to find meaning in life by cooking a grass-fed steer. The food descriptions and recipes could tempt even a vegan to order steak. You’ll never look at feedlot meat the same way.”— Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and host of PBS’s Primal Grill.
But some of the similarities with these the types of memoirs written by women fall away under closer examination. Stone focuses a lot of the book to talking about his health and to physical achievements like running barefoot and climbing a mountain. He talks about his career and other pursuits. He cooks a whole cow, for god's sake. While the memoirs written by women also frequently employ a gimicky catch in a bid to grab readers' attentions (and it works well enough, even for me), the focus on meat is one that marks this book as particularly and distinctly masculine.
Which isn't to say that women can't write books about meat--after all, Julie Powell wrote Cleaving about learning butchery. But there it's a foray into a unusual place for women, and she connects her exploration of this world of meat with the challenges to her marriage. (Excuse me while I go download this book to read--the critics eviscerate it in their reviews. I wonder why?)
Stone doesn't ever dig as deeply into these personal relationships. There's not a lot about his past--a theme that features prominently in the memoirs I've been reading--he doesn't talk much about how he fell in love with his wife (another common theme in other cooking memoirs), and there's not really much of a quest for home. He could have talked about the impact of his cooking a lot on his marriage, the ways that the cow alters his relationship and domestic responsibilities, any of these things...yet, a lot of the book is dedicated to his pursuit of better health.
Ultimately, Stone writes an engaging book that reminds readers that our food choices matter. And I think it is an interesting enough book to include in my research as I examine the gendered nature of these kinds of books and what they say about gender roles in cooking, in domesticity, and in the consumers of these texts.