A great piece about blaming feminism for our current food issues, and how romanticizing a false past is bad for food cuture. A bit of it:
“Yes, it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity,” sniffs British celebrity cookbook author Rose Prince, who later defends herself by telling me the feminists didn’t intend to ruin cooking.
Comments like this make me—owner of not one but two copies of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”—want to smack Pollan and the rest upside the head with a spatula. Claiming that feminism killed home cooking is not just shaming, it’s wildly inaccurate from a historical standpoint.
As should be obvious to anyone who’s peeked at a cookbook from the late 1940s or early 1950s that promotes ingredients like sliced hot dogs and canned tomato soup, we’ve been eating processed crap since long before feminism. Yet the idea of the feminist abandoning her children to TV dinners while she rushes off to a consciousness-raising group is unshakable.
The rise of convenience food has to do with market forces, not feminism. After World War II, food companies began unloading packaged food products developed for wartime use on the domestic market: frozen fish fillets, powdered coffee, tinned spinach. These foods were aggressively marketed as wholesome and modern, since housewives were initially suspicious of products like ham that came in a can. But lots of women, it turns out, were simply not so fond of cooking. The twentieth century’s two most popular pro-convenience-foods cookbooks, Peg Bracken’s cheeky 1960 “The I Hate to Cook Book,” with its recipes like Skid Road Stroganoff (“Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink”), and Poppy Cannon’s 1951 “The Can-Opener Cookbook” were hits long before second-wave feminism was so much as a gleam in Betty Friedan’s eye. So why does Betty get blamed?
The food movement, with its insistence on how fun and fulfilling and morally correct cooking is, seems to have trouble imagining why women might not have wanted to spend all their time in front of the stove. Since scratch cooking today is largely a hobby or a personal choice of the middle class, many of us wish we could spend more time in the kitchen. But it’s important to remember that this was not always the case.
It’s easy to forget, in the face of today’s foodie culture, that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.