For a long time I’ve felt a vague sense that women of the 50ish set and younger relished their inability to cook, as if knowing how to knead bread or whip up a marinara sauce from scratch were shackles of a bygone era of gender inequity.
I first noticed it one Sunday afternoon seated around a lunch table with several young baby-boomers boasting that they had never made a double-crust pie. I was shocked. Even as a young newlywed before I owned a rolling pin I savored every payday when there was enough money left over in the grocery budget for nearly a dozen green apples and half a pound of butter to make my mother-in-law’s apple pie.
It never occurred to me that donning a floral apron to roll out a pie crust--with a pint glass because it was what we had, and it worked--might be a regression into the past, wasting all of my grandmothers’ hard won battles for women’s liberation. That, gasp, I might appear unliberated in so doing.
And yet, that is the message I hear almost every day now that I’m attune to it. I hear it mostly from food marketers, but also from real women. The message is loud and clear: now that we’re empowered, educated and employed, who has the time to cook?
I suppose it’s a fair question. But let’s forget the time issue for a moment and address the ideology and its consequences. In her brilliant treatise on food, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” Barbara Kingsolver writes “When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. ‘Hey, ladies,’ it said to us, ‘go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.’ They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply.”
I have only known a world in which the educational and career possibilities were endless. Thus for me, the kitchen has never held this stigma. Neither has housework. At the end of a long day writing, I can shut my laptop and open up the pantry to prepare dinner from scratch. Not because I have to. Not because I don’t have a degree framed on my wall (and the student loan payments to match). Not because I’m not intelligent enough to do anything else. I cook because eating is an integral part of living. And to cede that delicious responsibility to someone else leaves me and my family at the mercy of the American food industry. Don’t even get me started. I cook because it knits me together with people, the people from whom I buy my food, the people with whom I cook and the lovely people I have the privilege of dining with every day.