Friday, May 28, 2010

Feminism Killed Food, But Who Cares, Since Women Can't Cook Anyway

Posted By on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 11:43 AM

There's a hot convo going on in the blogosphere/online lit mag world about feminism's culpability in the death of the decent meal. If women hadn't trampled the family meal en masse on the way to those high-paying jobs — stopping only to spit on the entire culture of food prep as they grabbed a pack of Virginia Slims on their way out the door — we might not all be porkers too busy double-fisting cheeseburgers to stare down the obesity epidemic. Or something like that. (It's a writer critiquing a book review, so the he said/she said gets a bit tedious.) From revered food scribe Michael Pollan's review of Janet Flammang's book ""The Taste of Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society":

In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating “foodwork”—everything involved in putting meals on the family table—we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal. It is at “the temporary democracy of the table” that children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civility—sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending—and it is these habits that are lost when we eat alone and on the run.

Umm, OK? I mean, yes, we get it. When women went to work, there was stuff at home they stopped doing. The cult of domesticity was no longer. So shit didn't get done, and, shocker, men didn't exactly rush in and start vacuuming their balls off either. (See the results of this up-to-the-second study, in which women still do most of the housework and childrearing in households, even where both partners work equally.) Or, as Anna Clark puts it in her critique of Pollan's take on Flammang's book:

My take, as a feminist and local foodie? Blaming feminism for luring women out of the kitchen, stealing the ritual of the family meal, and thereby diminishing "one of the nurseries of democracy" is both simplistic and ridiculous. It's true that shared meals are powerful spaces for building relationships and "the habits of civility." But if we're going to talk about who's to blame for our current culture of processed food, why not blame untold generations of men for not getting into the kitchen, especially given Pollan's characterization of the family meal as having a meaningful role in cultivating democracy? If it's so important, why is their absence excusable?
It's excusable because men are too busy doing something else: Ruling at cooking professionally.

That's right: Double-whammy! Women should return to the kitchen, but only so long as they don't profit from it too much. Repeat: Women's place is in the kitchen, but nearly all the top chefs are men. Or as New York chef Amanda Cohen recently posted:

Why would an investor back a female chef in a restaurant? He knows that she won’t get the hype and attention a male chef will get because she’s clearly inferior. I look around at the awards and at the press, I think about who the celebrated up and coming male chefs are (Nate Appleman, George Mendes) and then the celebrated female chefs (um…) and I realize that, as a woman, I have no place being in a kitchen.

Anyone who's worked in a commercial kitchen knows the restaurant world is ragingly sexist. But the real problem here is all the mixed messages. Note to patriarchy: Women know that their desire for self-fulfillment beyond domestic life has unleashed all manner of plague and disease across the land. We are a selfish breed. We have been punished with lower-paying wages and persistent, pervasive discrimination. But please reconvene and get your story straight so that the we know our true place. Is it in the kitchen, but only at home or serving? Can we be chefs, just not really successful ones? Should we return to the kitchen, but only if we prepare your favorite meal? Inquiring minds.

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