The main criticism that I have noticed popping up around the Slow Food movement is an idea that it is forcing women back into the kitchens and out of the world. The idea is that this is both degrading to women and it is robbing women of pleasure and leisure time that could be better spent.
This lecture was posted on one of my message boards – Mark Bittman: What’s wrong with what we eat. The discussion moved over to the question of “who will prepare this food”? Who will be the one to cook from scratch and to use real ingredients? The underlying assumption is that most of the burden will be placed on women. I’m guessing that this is true in most families. So does that mean that this kind of advice shouldn’t be given?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I can imagine myself saying the same thing 10 years ago. I didn’t see how “domestic chores” could be enjoyable and I certainly didn’t think they could be empowering. I thought that any woman who chose to do them AND enjoyed it was brainwashed or at least allowing herself to be manipulated by the patriarchal society that we live in.
My view has changed drastically. You might guess that by looking at my last post about my apron, lol. Cooking can be just as empowering and enjoyable as any other leisure activity. I love the feeling of sitting down to watch my family eat a healthy, homemade meal. Looking back, I enjoyed it even when I was working full time and we didn’t have kids. I didn’t cook with whole food ingredients very often, but I did cook, and I enjoyed it. I think the closest thing that I can compare it to is the feeling that I get when I look down at a content, chunky baby who has just finished nursing. I can see that she is healthy, satisfied, and I know that I did it all on my own. Its such a great feeling.
I’ve been reading This Organic Life for the past week, and it just so happens to have a whole chapter devoted to this topic. What are the odds?! It also had a chapter devoted to having to kill garden pests. That chapter also spoke to me since I have sneaky little mice living in my compost bin. I’ll save that for a different post though, lol.
Back to the book though. Joan Dye Gussow starts chapter 14 (entitled “Is It Worth It?”) by saying the following
The foregoing celebration of local food rests, admittedly, on the threatening assumption that someone will cook. Judging from their behavior, it looks as if most people in many circumstances don’t and won’t. They seem to have decided that cooking doesn’t pay–although buying lavish cookbooks does. According to time-use studies, what has replaced cooking for females is television and grooming; men didn’t have that much cooking to replace.
Indeed. It does rest on that assumption. There is no denying that the only way that you can eat more whole foods, whether local or not, is if someone is willing to cook it. I really like watching BBC America’s show You Are What You Eat. I’ve always found it fascinating that some of the biggest complaints come over the fact that they have to actually MAKE their food. It appears as though they complain about the prep work even more than they complain about giving up fast food and junk. It seems that everyone comes around by the end, but almost everyone claims to be too busy to cook when they first start the process. I think that’s especially funny because they usually show the people sitting in a recliner, watching tv, and eating from a bag for the whole evening. They don’t look that busy.
So yeah, it seems that many people don’t want to cook. So that is automatically factored into most people’s ideas of the value of cooking at home. So does this mean that it is automatically a burden to ask men and women to cook?
Joan Dye Gussow came across the following quote as she was researching. It is from an Israeli economist named Reuben Gronau
An intuitive distinction between work at home (i.e., home production time) and leisure (i.e., home consumption time), is that work at home (like work in the market) is something one would rather have somebody else do for one (if the cost were low enough) while it would be almost impossible to enjoy leisure through a surrogate.
Aha! That describes exactly how I feel about the work that I do at home. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I really do see cooking as leisure time. I would never want to pay someone to do it for me. It would rob me of all of those great feelings. Apparently Joan Dye Gussow agrees with me.
Wow, I thought. Anything done unwillingly at home is work; anything done voluntarily is pleasure. So if I enjoy cooking, then my work counts as a benefit, not a cost…
The point is that cooking food is not just about whether or not I could pay a “surrogate” (as Gronau says) to do my cooking. The point is that I would miss out on way more than the experience if I were to have someone else do it. I would miss out on the laughs with my kids as they stir pancake batter. I’d miss the chance to meditate and contemplate while I kneaded my bread. I’d miss the chance to create and innovate while nourishing my family. I’d miss SO much more than I would gain by having an extra hour or two to watch tv or groom (which is apparently what the average woman now does, right?)
I consider myself a feminist. At the same time, I am saddened by the feminist idea that anything that was traditionally done by women is automatically degrading. Should men help? Absolutely, if that’s what works for your family. My husband and I have a pretty progressive relationship. We divide our labor based on who is better and who knows more about a given topic. Revolutionary! I would find it silly to make Joe cook just for the sake of equality. There are times that he does cook. It is usually when it is something that he is better at though. Its not just so that he has to work as much as I do at every single task. What about single people? They still have to cook. Is it be degrading then?
I realize that cooking is not something that everyone loves. I do believe that we can all work on finding joy in everything that we do. Joe and I have talked about this several times. He and I both have parts of our day that we enjoy less than others. There are certain tasks that we each must do at our jobs that are not our favorites. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to do them though. The Bible tells us
Ecclesiastes 2:24 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
I actually love the section above this quote, but I have found that people start scanning when Bible quotes are long 😛
I also love Paul’s encouragement to those who were slaves at the time
Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward
Who would have more reason to hate their work than those who were being forced into labor?! Those are the absolute worst working conditions that we can imagine, and yet Paul still said to work as though you are working for the Lord.
I have found that the more that I work with a good attitude, then the more I am open to learn and experience through the task. As I said above, there is so much more that happens during that time. Its not just about accomplishing an objective.
Finally, as if reading my incredibly long post wasn’t enough, I want to link to this great sticky on Gentle Christian Mothers. It was written by a dear friend who has inspired me for years. We used to live near each other, and she serves with me at GCM. I feel so lucky to have her in my life, and I hope that her words can bless you to. Here is her writing on Finding joy in your homekeeping ministry. I hope that it can encourage you as much as it encouraged me 🙂
I hope you’re having a great Sunday, and now I’m off to make dinner!