Why do I feel like a bad feminist to take advantage of my time in the kitchen?
Is the ardent love of cooking compatible with modern feminism?
“I’m a feminist, but …” begins each episode of the award-winning podcast, The guilty feminist. It’s a hilarious opening that sets the tone for the show, as host Deborah Francis-White and her guests discuss the woes of modern femininity. We’re feminists, but we love upholstery, care about our calorie intake, or obsess over light rings.
Well, I’m a feminist, but I love cooking. I completely and totally love my cooking. I am what writer Dayna Tortorici would call a ‘cook’: one who likes to cook, linger and hover in the kitchen, even at a house party (guilty). For me, a kitchen is a place of community, warmth and nourishment; it nourishes my soul and the bodies of those around me.
If you’re in the mood for more personal essays, there’s plenty in our Life section.
But as Dayna admits: “It’s hard to admit that I love my cooking; say: “I like being in the kitchen”… Why? For the same reason, it is unwise to say “I want children” or “I like to stay at home” – because those who would like to make it compulsory do not need ammunition. “
Where does this guilt come from?
My heart knows that modern feminism is about choice and empowerment. It’s about freeing yourself from the pigeons of the past. Enjoying cooking and baking isn’t anti-feminist in that regard, but my mind often tells me that I’m one step away from becoming the 21st century Stepford wife.
I trace this back to the movement of second wave feminism – circa the 1960s – when activists like Betty Friedan fought for women in the workplace to have the opportunity for careers. A feminist, they believed, was someone who was not a housewife or who felt uncomfortable with full-time household chores.
Traditional family dynamics determined that a woman’s role was to cook healthy meals and that the man had the “right” to return from work and ingest afterward. While I’m sure it’s been rewarding for some women (and that, of course, is totally fine), it must have been relentless and understating for many.
Growing up, my mother stayed at home. One perk was coming back from school to the smell of freshly baked banana bread or cookies, for which I am eternally grateful. I learned the importance and the privilege of good homemade food without preservatives. During the holidays we would cook together and I would learn the basics of cooking. Yes, she has a passion for typical “ feminine ” hobbies – sewing, baking, etc.
But my mother is definitely a feminist. We (my sisters and I) were not forced into the kitchen, but rather were encouraged to enjoy it. As she tells me, “I think it’s really important that everyone knows how to eat, without having to outsource to UberEeats.” She gave me no unconscious guilt, it was age and cultural representations that had their way.
Reframing the kitchen as a tool of power
As my mom recognizes, there is a certain power that comes with cooking. Could reframe my idea of cooking help eradicate the guilt? I spoke to two women I admire in the local food industry to gain a better understanding of this culinary creation Meg yonson and home cook / biz whiz Jessica nguyen.
Meg’s take on cooking is drastically different from mine, which gives me pause. For her, learning to cook was her form of rebellion as a young teenage girl, growing up in an immediate family of non-cooks. While I thought I was falling into a misogynistic trap, Meg cultivated her entrepreneurial skills and her passion for creating nutritious meals.
However, the women of her extended family were powerful female influences in the kitchen: an aunt who made something out of nothing, a cousin who became a pastry chef, and a grandmother widely regarded as the local butcher. “The women in my life around food were pretty hardcore. My grandmother would come and feed us kids sausages, and that was all we would eat. No vegetables, ”she says.
Meanwhile, Jessica echoes the idea of empowerment, and not just for women. “Some women might think cooking is such a ‘housewife’ thing, and I try not to present it like that. I just think it’s a way of life and a way of being an adult. Everyone should know how to make good pasta. Everyone should know how to prepare a good meal for themselves or for others, ”she tells me.
Why did Jessica transform her entrepreneurial skills in the kitchen last year? Simply put, because she loves it. We make it too complicated; it doesn’t have to be an us versus them mentality. Feminism, she notes, is about choice and the freedom to choose what you do with your life.
In the same vein, Nigella lawson encourages women to cook from a place of pleasure. She started teaching us to appreciate food and have fun with it in the 90s. Before Nigella, Julia Child stoically believed in creating beautiful things to eat and finding pure pleasure in doing so. Cooking is essential for everyone.
Breaking out of the ‘stuck in the kitchen’ state of mind
Half of my problem is that I don’t like being alone in the kitchen. It’s like being banished to your room, but it involves extra work; I was sent to the back kitchen. It can be both my favorite room (to get together, to work, to listen to music) and my most hated.
It’s something Meg can relate to as well. Of a short-lived move to a federation style house, she says, “I hated every microsecond we had there. I never felt like that person hanging out in the kitchen until I moved to this place because everyone was apart, everyone was having fun in the living room because it was there was no way to interact in the kitchen. Her current, smaller apartment is open plan and inclusive. Now there is flow, involvement, conversation and a pleasant atmosphere.
Jessica approaches cooking as a form of personal care, another meaningful way to modernize time spent in the kitchen. It makes her feel good, whether it’s cooking for herself or for others. “It nourishes you, and there is always a really delicious physical result at the end.” It is also a language of love, a way of “spreading a little joy to people”.
When I think of cooking with this in mind, focusing on the glowing positives instead of the traditional mindset, it becomes an awesome tool. It will keep me alive. This will allow me to learn (there is always new skills and recipes to try). It will convey an “I love you” or “I care” when the words don’t come easily. This will allow me to move around, shut down the computer, and concentrate on other things.
There is no shame in these things; there is no shame in finding joy in the kitchen, just as there is no shame in staying home, buying household items, or choosing to work long hours. Because it’s all a choice, and if you do what you love, that shouldn’t be a means of guilt.
Learn more about cooking and feminism here.