Thursday, August 13, 2009

Feminism through cooking

When I was in college, I was famous for eating one of about two dishes: hamburgers, grilled cheese, and fries with mayo. (Don't judge, it's how the Dutch do it.) This was largely because the food at my school was practically inedible otherwise, but I wasn't any better when I lived with my parents. My complete antipathy to any food that was not strictly American (even if it was, actually, American) was complete - I wouldn't do any food framed as Mexican, or Indian, or Chinese, or really even vegetables.

My mom is the major feminist influence in my life directly and indirectly. She's an outspoken feminist herself who made an effort to impart those views to me by talking to me about politics, women's rights, and feminism. She's also a strong and intelligent woman who never failed to stand up for me and herself in my education, her career, or our relationship with the men in our family. Mom wasn't a homemaker - she is an artist and a student, and though my father supported the family financially, I don't believe that we put a stronger emphasis on his career than my mom's. She's a woman with talent, and opinions, and a life outside of her marriage to my dad and her parenting.

She's also the household manager in our home - she directs and does a great deal of the cooking and cleaning. While I never really thought that this was contradictory with her feminism, I saw it as contradictory with mine, and used my feminism to refuse to do my part in the household - cleaning or cooking. My mom wanted to teach me how to do these things competently so I could grow into an independent, autonomous young woman fully able to take care of myself - but misplaced feminism kept me from listening.

Today, I do most of the cooking for me and my partner - not because he wants me to, but because I thoroughly love it. J likes to cook, and he sometimes does. But for whatever reason - socialization, normalization, gendered ideas of what adulthood means - I took to immediately and was instinctively good at it. I also hate doing the dishes, which he does when I cook. My parents came to visit me a couple of weeks ago, and I cooked two meals for them - salmon, chicken, brie, kale, macaroni avocado salad, lima beans, cookies. It was the first time they've been to my home as an adult, and they were pretty shocked by how good the food was (and how clean my house was).

Cooking is one of the highlights of my day: the food I cook is something I'm proud of (gastronomically, that is), and I love to eat and enjoy time with my partner. Though it may be rooted somewhat in my socialization as a woman, we all need to eat, and I do not feel that my exercise in choosing what what and how I eat necessarily reinforces patriarchy.

Cooking has become an exercise and an expression of my feminism since I began to take (just about) full responsibility for myself and fully share my life with my man. Being able to fully feed myself is a hallmark of independence - I'm able to determine what goes into my stomach, in what proportions and combinations. To make meals from scratch, without the use of microwaves, with fresh ingredients is power - over myself and over my partner.

It's power we can mediate and trade. We are both active in taking and masticating the power one exerts on the other. And it's not mitigated by my serving dinner to him - when I cook, he readies the table for eating, we serve ourselves, and he cleans up afterward. Typically, he'll help me out in some small way while I'm cooking - by chopping an onion or readying (deeeelicious) frozen lima beans. When he is uncomfortable with repeating the dynamic nightly, he cooks, and I clean. When we have children, it will be especially important that we both cook and clean in order to reject the gendering of nurturing and caretaking.

Being able to share physical processes is a hallmark of intimacy in my relationships - food with friends, sex with lovers, peeing around people when camping. It's a bond to be formed with friends as well - gathering around a table to cook with and for each other, everyone helping out just a little with other's dishes, giving and taking direction. Cooking and cleaning and eating for and with each other solidifies our bond in an equitable and fair way.

Cooking is a physical act not only in digestion, but in preparation. I type for a living, and walking, chopping, frying, is often as active as I'll be all day. As I'm going through the various processes involved in whatever meal I cook, I can let my mind examine the events of the day. I can work through whatever difficulties I've had during the day while I'm going through repetitive tasks that free my mind while engaging my hands.

Meal preparation combines creativity and technical application with long and short term rewards of health and taste in a way that little else does. There are technical aspects to writing, sure - I must be sure to check my privileges and double-check my language before posting - but it is mainly mental labor. I have yet to be felled by carpal tunnel or other repetitive stress injuries, and I typically only engage my mind on a daily day of blogging.

The ability to cook for myself, while a feminist act, is also an exercise in privilege. My class privilege allows me to comfortably buy healthy food and cook them with expensive oils and spices, and cook them in my own home. I grew up with home-cooked meals that normalized it and taught me how to manage meal preparation through osmosis. This is not an option that is open to many. It's a function of ableist privilege to an extent - I am able to move and function in the kitchen in a way that is not accessible to all. Additionally, not all people have the digestive capabilities to eat as widely as I do.

The activity of cooking and eating healthy meals is a fully feminist act in my life. Food is our method of subsistence: it is how we build and continue life. By making meals for myself and J, I assert and mediate power and control in a complex relationships. Cooking is a means to take the makeup of my body and my life in my own direction.


  1. Awesome post. I also am proud of my cooking abilities, but I don't consider it a feminist part of me. Probably because I was taught to cook very young mostly so that my mom didn't have to do it anymore. So because of that, feeling like I HAVE to cook makes me cranky. So that's why I'm glad I've got a guy who wants to do most of the cooking!

    Cute picture, too, by the way :) I like that dress

  2. Thanks for the perspective and the compliment :) Etsy = amazing!

  3. if you ever get sick of it, check out

    or just go for the recipes. :)

    great blog!


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