Between bowls of chicken soup, I read three things today while resting in bed. The first was a book about the iconic artist Frida Kahlo, the second a Time magazine article about Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her mission to “reboot” feminism, and the third a Mother Jones article titled, “How Michael Pollan Romanticizes Dinner.” I was trying to rest as my immune system is in overdrive, but all this reading turned me into a bedroom philosopher and got me thinking about my own feministy tendencies. Yes, that is a word; it is my own modification of an -ism that has never quite felt entirely comfortable, but also one I’m unwilling to abandon entirely.
So, I spent the afternoon thinking about what it means to be an ambitious woman in today’s world and also be going “back to the kitchen.” I am not going to make any grandiose statements on the issue, because my head still hurts and I got a little distracted by a visit from Gowan and the famous baby goat, Apple. And, I really wanted to make shortbread cookies tonight. If I write, will someone bake me local cookies? Thanks.
The discussion of domesticity comes down to the fact that a certain number of basic things have to be done to sustain life such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and pets. This is usually called housework, but it is really survival-work. Because what is more fundamental to life than the preparation of food? These tasks have often been considered “women’s work.” Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked, explores the history of women in the kitchen and what drove them out – citing feminism and entering the workforce as causes. I am less interested in what specifically drove women out of the kitchen at this point, and more interested in how i’m going to eat in the next week. This is where it gets interesting and particularly unnerving for me. Now, we don’t even have to wonder who’s going to cook. As Pollan says:
“For the necessary and challenging questions about who should be in the kitchen, posed so sharply by Betty Friedan in the Feminist Mystique, ultimately got answered by the food industry: No one! Let us do it all!”
I have never been more domestic than I have during the past five months. I have also never been less dependent on a globalized corporate industrial food system that has tried to replace food with ingredients that you cannot pronounce. All of the cooking and dishwashing does not make me feel like I am fulfilling some genetic calling; it makes me feel like I am taking responsibility for my life. Ideally, it has made me aware that it is totally unsustainable to live alone as a single woman if we want to transform the broken systems that support life as we know it. We need neighbors to join together in the growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparation of food. We need sister-wives we can call on when we are lonely, hungry or tired so they can bring us foodstuffs and baby goats to cuddle. We need shared resources such as tools, equipment, and skills. We need a community of people with knowledge that spans many generations and geographies to solve all the problems we face. We need the humility to ask for help and the courage to try to do something we’ve never done before. We need to be willing to swing hammers and bake bread, regardless of whether or not we have a Y chromosome.
In short, reconnecting the dots for a sustainable, fulfilling economy will require the whole damn village – men and women alike. No one should be forced to cook, or do anything they don’t want to. If we all do some of the work some of the time, there is enough for everyone. I am not suggesting that these problems are simple to solve. Neither is overturning patriarchy. Oppression, racism, classism and sexism exist, and they are all reflected in a food system that is built on injustice.
Gowan and I decided to take one giant step toward a better food future in our own lives, to show that it is possible. And, that it is fun, and challenging, too. We are both exhausted from working triple time. The “joy” of cooking is real, and it’s also hard work! As Tom Philpott points out in the Mother Jones article:
So even Julia Child, born in 1912, grew up with servants in the kitchen and scant memories of her mother whipping up dinner—although, to the 1960s-era audience of her television show, live-in cooks were likely much less common than they were during Child’s 1920s childhood, because the cost of labor had risen over the decades. But the point stands: People with sufficient means have long been able to opt out of cooking. What I wrote back in 2009 still sums up my thoughts today:
Pollan was right: people do need to revalue the craft of cooking, to embrace it as a quotidian pleasure, not a mere chore. But if we manage convince them of that, we’ll have achieved something new, not returned to a lost past.
There is no going “back.” No going back to the land. No going back to the kitchen. There is no perfect past where gender relations and domestic duties lie in perfect balance. Our relationship with food has been structured by social movements, political will, economic shifts and cultural norms. Now, it is largely being decided by corporations. So, as we move forward into a new food future, I think the biggest battle is getting Betty Crocker out of the kitchen and getting Monsanto out of the White House. In the meantime, let’s make dinner together. (Seriously, if anyone wants to have us over for a local dinner, let us know! We’d love a break.) And we think men in aprons are sexy.