tussling over the tiramisu

In the past couple of weeks, I have read several stories about men who love to cook. A grand thing, at first blush. Apparently we should not speak so quickly. Hanna Rosin at Slate is throwing cookbooks at her husband for making soup, Elizabeth Weil  at the New York Times is discussing her husband’s culinary habits in therapy.

Admittedly, this problem has no direct relationship with my actual life.  I love to cook, my partner is more than happy to cede the kitchen (most of the time). I also do not have children, who seem to be at the center of the debate. Who will watch them while the home-made gnocchi simmers? If it is the man who is engaged in the creative process of cooking, then it is the woman who is engaged in the drudgery of child-rearing and homework-doing, and fight-refereeing.

My reaction to this complaint is varied. Historically, cooking is a feminine task, and I am happy to see the gender barriers break down a bit, even if it is only in the companiate-marriages of the upper middle class. At the same time, I don’t necessarily see this development as the end of women being responsible for cooking. In the anecdotal stories mentioned above, men are responsible for the kitchen show-pieces and women are still making chicken cutlets with steamed carrots on weeknights. That bears a striking resemblance to the men as chefs/women as cooks duality that has been present in cooking throughout the ages. Men cook for money and prestige, women cook because someone has to feed the kids.

I think there is an innate fear of men honing in on the little territory women actually have, which is complicated by the fact that women complain about the drudgery of that very turf. We are forced into the vacuum of childcare, housework, and cookery, but when men start to take over some of those tasks, there is a feeling of: Hey! Wait a Minute! This is all we have, and you get to take over the fun parts of this, too?

With cooking, it is imperative that women and men redistribute the labor and that everyone becomes responsible for the nutrition of a family, or  more grandly, a society. Currently, a lot of the weight of feeding America falls on the shoulders of women. I think there is a subtext to our debates about the American Food Crisis that says women are to blame for the problems of the industrial food system. Women cook, or don’t cook as the case may be, for their families more than men. And women left the domestic sphere right around the same time convenience foods kicked it up a notch. These two facts often conflate to form a kind of “I’m just saying… ” statement that floats beneath the surface when we talk about problems like obesity or the consumption of franken-chickens. The thing is, it should not be a woman’s responsibility to feed their families. It should be everyone’s. Men’s, women’s, neighbor’s, aunt’s, etc.

This isn’t just a vision of a neighborhood all sitting down to break whole grain bread together, its more of an idea that sane public policies about agriculture have to be in place in order for anyone to be expected to feed their families nutritious meals. Especially people who don’t have the luxury of fighting over who gets to hand butcher a goat from the farmer’s market.

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