The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Modern Female Protest at Home
A bit late to the internet table on this one, which was meant to be part of the Women in Protest series (sorry!).
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a massive foodie. I will happily spend an entire day poncing around making dinner from scratch for my friends (including sugar-coating rose petals for Rose Martinis. Helpful hint: overdo it and they glue to saucers, never to come off). I was the only person at school who wanted to take Home Economics at A Level, with the result that it didn’t run so I had to do Chemistry instead, which is just Maths Cookery anyway *ducks*.
So, I love food, food prep and all things kitchen related. Yet there’s a Bad Reputation (geddit?) between women, feminism and kitchens, and I’d like to talk about that. Not just in the wake of the Great British Bake Off, either.
Women’s Lib, to coin an old phrase, has been linked to the rise of labour saving household appliances, yet it’s a fact that women do most of the shopping and cooking, probably because whilst we’ve made great leaps forward in terms of being able to vote and not being treated as the property of husbands, there’s still a massive social expectation around looking after the home. Separate Spheres for the 21st century.
Now, on a practical front, this means that it’s women who are often in control of what a family eats, what a family thinks about food. This can be both a good and bad thing. This setup means that many families understand a “woman’s role” as one which involves spending time feeding and looking after them, and whilst it’s great to be the nurturing one, the one who can make the AMAZING pie, the one who keeps the place feeling like a home. It’s less great to be that person because you are female. And that’s the problem.
The kitchen is the centre of a lot of families and households. Control of the kitchen means control over a lot more than that. Women are, whether they realise it or not, at the very centre of what kinds of food we eat and hence the sort that is offered, produced and sold. Realistically, the entire industry of FMCG products – and the potential for increasingly environmentally friendly products, fair trade products, and organic products – is supported by the habits of women when they go to the store.
In short – women can make a huge amount of difference to the world by leveraging their role as consumer. And this is where the feminist bit comes in. It’s not about consigning the entire role of “homemaker” to the bin of 1950s retro parties and relief over how we’re not Betty Draper. It’s about using the history of women in the home, women cooks, our mums and grandmothers, to think about (and act upon) a new tradition of taking charge and getting on.
My gran taught me how to cook. She also taught me many other things about making my own way in the world, which included a damn good shortcrust pastry.
Wooden spoons at the ready? Here we go.
First up, and an easy starting point are some big name women cooks. From Mrs Beeton through to Delia and Nigella, these are women who have helped shape how we think about food, our homes and ourselves.
They’ve even helped us understand more about countries and cultures beyond the UK and Europe – food being an excellent and tasty way of enjoying a bit of intercultural sharing. In the 70s, Madhur Jaffrey’s travel-diaries mixed recipes with vignettes on where the food was found, who made it and interesting titbits of stories on Indian culture. More recently, Harumi Kurihara has given us access into the world of Japanese home cooking.
Next up, we can look at women’s roles in the kitchen in connection with the economy. The recent waves of recession after recession have seen a rise in cost of living with a corresponding reactive change in shopping habits as women revolt every day against the high cost of food prices by changing where they buy things and what is being cooked and eaten in the home. The fact that the cuts fall more heavily upon women, and that the burden of dealing with households with lower incomes also falls into the pockets of female aprons, has led many women to become increasingly political.
The revolution begins in the kitchen. Bake for victory!
The connection between politics at home and the wider political world is not a new thing. Many food awareness and food movements have been driven by women, such as the aptly named Kitchen Revolution and the almost too awesome to exist Isa Chandra Moskowitz who heads up the Post Punk Kitchen a refreshing mind-spin for anyone who thinks vegan cooking is about boring mung beans. The memory of her peanut butter and chocolate cookies are making my mouth water right now.
I’m going to close by saying that I really believe that teaching everyone to cook, to know where food comes from and the value of properly sourced, sustainable food products is part of the feminist movement. The power of the kitchen is not something to be set aside in the belief that we are letting down the sisterhood by being chained to the oven. Instead, we can help make a much better world by getting everyone involved.
And yes, you can lick the spoon afterwards.