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FP4: Feminism and Food

22 Apr 2006, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in podcast, sensuality

The lasting effects of feminism have not all been positive. One such effect is an entire generation of women who likely don’t know how to cook, and when combined with a muddled message of sensuality as delivered by the mass media, it adds up to a recipe for culinary havoc. How do we get to the right ideas about femininity, sensuality, and their relation to food? It starts, as always, with philosophy.

Bachelor’s Boot Camp: The Chef’s Knife

Theme Music: “New York Cheesecake,” by Adam Buker. www.adambuker.com.

The Food Philosophy podcast is a production of The Gilded Fork.

  • Jacqui

    Hi! am writing from Jamaica, a friend of mine sent me this link and I must say that I have really enjoyed it.
    I too am an accomplished home cook, I have always enjoyed expressing my creativity in the kitchen. Living alone ,prior to marriage ,I’d make a meal from scratch when I got home from work.I opted to stay home for first 7 years of my sons lives and I remember friends being very critical as “I wasn’t using my education”or this was not a “politically correct ” way for a woman to behave in the nineties.
    I have 2 boys now , both of whom can help themselves in the kitchen. The youngest who is eight knows how to make his own sourdough starter and loves to help bake bread, make pies and season meat. Both boys prefer to eat a homecooked meal over going out to restaurants or to have fast food. I figure that they are on the right track.
    I realise that it was a privilege for me to stay home with the kids as not everyone can afford to do it, but it has been worth it for my family.
    ..and now that they are older and more independent I’m applying to do my Masters but they’ll still be getting all their meals at home.I think I can still be a good feminist and a homemaker. I don’t need to be the same as a man , my body by birth has been made to nuture (men can’t nuture a fetus or breastfeed a baby as yet -my kids never had the use of a bottle )so why not celebrate my femininty by continuing to nurture.Anyway keep up the good work

  • Te

    I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful podcast! I’ve been going back to the earlier shows to catch up and this particular show really caught my attention.

    #1 I’ve always loved to cook and definitely not because I was taught I was suppose to cook to please anyone. I grew up with lots of happy cooking memories, from awaiting the weekends at my great-grandmother’s house to make blueberry muffins to the amazing meals my grandmother would come up with without a cookbook. It always amazes me when someone thinks that my cooking probably 5 times a week as nuts. “I don’t know how you do it. I cook on Sunday at best to make leftovers for a day or two and then I just order out!” I find cooking relaxing and fun. Which leads me into the second half of your show about sensuality…

    #2 My husband and I enjoy cooking together and it’s definitely it’s own aphrodisiac. Being chased around the kitchen with a finger full of brownie batter can lead to great times. =)

    And yes, Nigella is definitely a sensual food goddess! Food is not just for feeding the body, it’s for feeding every part of a person. The smell, the look, the taste, the thoughts, WHEEE!

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  • Jennifer Iannolo

    Thank you so much, ladies! :)

  • Anonymous

    And now, from a man’s perspective… Allow me to be blunt.

    Please don’t blame feminism! As you probably know from my comments on other episodes, my food philosophy is very similar to yours. But I wouldn’t blame feminism for the current situation in the United States. At least, not feminism alone.

    Feminism is really strong, here in Quebec, and, in my experience (mostly MidWest and Northeast), gender segregation is much less prominent here than it is in most parts of the United States. In Quebec, women haven’t been subservient for quite a while. In fact we, Quebec men, are often accused of being subservient! Yet, you would likely have an easier time finding “your kind of woman,” right here in Quebec (especially since your French is so good) than you do in the States.

    For one thing, we seem to have more women as chefs than in most parts of the U.S., but at the same time, many guests on our cooking shows are men. Our typical lifestyle is pretty North American overall but this is one dimension in which there’s a notable difference between Quebeckers and other North Americans. Actually, my wife was shocked by gender inequalities when she moved to Northampton, MA (an allegedly well-liberated place, especially for women). And, as an Acadian, she always thought Quebec women were overly assertive…

    To me, and to many other Québécoises and Québécois, cooking isn’t gender-specific. There are important differences between women and men in terms of tastes. For instance, pregnant women perceive bitterness more strongly than other people and women in general tend not to enjoy bitterness as much as men do. But these differents don’t have much to do with men or women who aren’t able to cook.

    I’m a 34 year old man and I started cooking at age 9. As my mother worked outside the home (as an occupational therapist), I was responsible for cooking my own lunches. Sure, at first it was mostly reheating leftovers or preparing simple things like scrambled eggs. But it did get me to use the stove early on (we didn’t have a microwave). I also started cooking increasingly elaborate meals. And I always enjoyed cooking. Nobody ever saw any of this as being feminine in any way. Hey, I also love bubble baths and walks on the beach. Does that make me less of a man?

    Now, granted, the sexual revolution in the U.S. did relate to people’s relationship with food. For one thing, the stereotypes about homecooks did become quite damaging. But feminism isn’t the sole cause of the current situation. I would even tend to say that feminism would be needed to put the U.S. more in line with your food philosophy.

    There’s something fascinating about the situation in the U.S., in terms of gender and food. The 1950s model is on everyone’s minds and people seem convinced that women were really bad cook until the advent of prepared food and mainstream cookbooks. Listening to EatFeed, we get a very different picture. Seems like a lot was lost during the 20th century and much of it related to what men did (like convince women to use cake packages and TV dinners).

    To put it more positively, we can look at the “emancipation” of male cooks. Yes, the BBQ principle. Men had been driven out of the kitchen but they used outdoor cooking as a way to become cooks. The whole image of a middle-aged man, wearing an apron while grilling meat has been overused, over the years. But it does correspond to one part of the equation: American cooking became more “male” and, in the process, it acquired some interesting characteristics.

    Given my interests in craft beer, I’m often impressed at the transformation of witch-like brewsters/alewives into geeky brewers and brewery owners. In U.S. discourse, wine is feminine while beer is masculine. As such, beer could become unbelievably sophisticated without becoming overly fancy. This relates to one part of the craft beer revolution. Even though they’re flowers, intense hop aromas are in no way a mark of femininity. So men became really good at making very tasty beverages. As North American male brewers, we’re all in touch with our senses and there’s nothing unmanly about it.

    At the same time, the BBQ became the centre of many food-related festivities. Entertaining guests in the dining room is great but so is having a garden party, around the pool, with daddy monitoring the barbecue grill and kids running all around. It wasn’t like that in my family (my parents separated early on and my father mostly cooks meat in the kitchen) but it’s a striking image of the “American Dream.” Kind of macho, but it works. And the meat is tasty.

    More recently, we can say that part of the foodie revolution relates to the fact that very masculine chefs have become famous. Dione Lucas and Julia Childs (both of whom were connected to Northampton, MA) did a lot for the culinary world in the U.S., but much of what’s happening now is, perhaps, a more male-savvy culinary world. With people like Rick Tramonto, Steve Raichlen, the Iron Chef, and even Emeril Lagassé, guys have role models to become successful in the kitchen. Sure, there are many women involved in the foodie movement. But it’s quite possible that the fact that some men became star chefs has a lot to do with the changes between the Childs generation and today’s foodie and chowhound culture.

    Which isn’t to say that women haven’t been incredibly important in the culinary history of the United States or that they don’t remain important today. Quite the contrary. None of it would have happened without strong and positive women figures. But it’s probably important to notice that gender stereotypes are still very common in the U.S. and that “feminism isn’t over.”