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woman in kitchen

The other day on one of my favorite blogs, I came across an interesting debate about home cooking and what it means to people. Of course I was curious. Home cooking means a lot to me. I enjoy it, its important for me that my kids know how to cook, and I think it is important that people know how to cook for health and cultural reasons. I dove into the blog posts, eager to hear what others had to say on the subject.

The posts were passionate and peoples’ feelings on the subject ran deep. As I read more, it seemed that the women writing were not talking about cooking itself, but about what it meant to be a good cook, more specifically about the pressure to be a good cook. The more I read, the more it seemed people were reacting to expectations, either imposed by society, their families or even themselves.

One author wrote about how her mother ruined many a good holiday afternoon for herself by baking pies and becoming wretchedly frustrated. When her daughter suggested they buy pies instead so that they could all just enjoy their holiday, her mother took affront. Why? The author suspected that, in part we cook because we enjoy it, or to give those we love something special that only we can give. But, what if, the author wondered, there was another more pressing reason? She asked what if, “We cook to make ourselves indispensable and special.”? Could there was something to that? What if we cook because we feel we are expected to? and if we don’t we lose value and become dispensable? It got me thinking. There are lots of good reasons that get me into the kitchen, but I wondered about this negative one, if I ever fell prey to it and whether it was specific to women.

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My husband and I met through a common love of food. He is a better cook than I am and enjoys cooking more. I never see him get frazzled about his barbecue or grouchy when one of the kids does not appreciate the fruits of his labor like I do. Granted, at the moment I am the parent doing the daily cooking and he is the holiday cook, so there are fewer occasions for complaints about his cooking (and it really always is delicious). But I think that if he were doing the daily cooking, he wouldn’t take negative commentary in the same way I do. He cooks because he loves it not to be indispensable and special. I’m sure, if he didn’t love cooking, he just wouldn’t. He’d have a couple of dishes he could make when he had to and that would be it. No big deal.

So why is it such a big deal for women? Why are women apologetic when they can’t cook well or even angry when they feel they should be cooking but don’t want to spend their time that way? Are we really talking about cooking here? Or are we talking about gender roles? Is there still an expectation that women can and should cook for their families? Underneath the surface, I thought, the strong reactions were not aimed at cooking but at expectations fostered by persisting gender roles.
I began to wonder if home cooking remained one of the last surviving tasks still determined by gender roles. When I take stock of where we are in the progress gender equality, we certainly have come a long way, baby. Such a long way that I am often caught off guard when I stumble upon a hidden pocket of inequality. It seems inequality can no longer show its face in public, but has receded behind the closed doors of domesticity. While women have moved into the workforce and are more financially independent than ever, many also still have a second shift to attend to at the end of their paid working day. I wondered if this is what the hard feelings were about.

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In my understanding, feminism is freedom from gender roles for everyone. It is the freedom for people to pursue what they are passionate about regardless of whether it conforms to these roles. It is also, perhaps more importantly in this case, freedom for to people not worry about the things they do not care about. There are plenty of women who are not interested in cooking for their families or running a Martha-Stewart-like household. Just like there are plenty of men whose primary goal in life is not amassing a small fortune.

I happen to love food and think about it all the time. Cooking is one of my passions and I very much enjoy the process as well as the results. My cooking is a gift to those I love and a way for me to draw people together around something that gives us all joy. There are also practical reasons that motivate me like maintaining the health of our family, maintaining the health of our budget, teaching the kids about food and many more.  Sometimes it just feels good to be in the kitchen.

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Still, there are some days I  don’t feel like cooking the family dinner.

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Sometimes a couple of fried eggs and some wilted spinach will do, because there is something else occupying my attention. It is important to have the freedom to do that and I imagine that people who are not interested in cooking must feel that way most of the time. If it is not your passion, then it is a means to an end. You eat so that you can get back to your music, your kids, your writing, your work, whatever it is that captivates you.

What if we all gave ourselves and each other the freedom to pursue the things we feel most passionate about? Regardless of whether it is outside or inside the kitchen? Just imagine.