Where to begin?
Last week Virginia Heffernan got very ornery in The New York Times Magazine about what she perceives as the pressure from us collective food writers — especially those of us who write about families and cooking — to cook, and to like it. If you read her piece you may be wont to believe that those of us who not only have the audacity to cook for our families on a regular basis, but also to share this information with others, devote the rest of our time (when we are not making everyone else feel like crap for not measuring up in the kitchen) patting ourselves on the back in various farmers’ markets.
Virginia, I don’t want to go off on a rant myself. Ok, maybe a little one. But even though you didn’t single me out per se, I feel a little implicated, and want to clear the air.
You started off with some very relatable stuff. Even we food writers in our kale-covered ivory towers often face the impending dinner hour with emotions that range from “I hope no one is going to complain about fish again” to “I forgot to pick up lettuce” to the all-encompassing, “Oh, shit, it’s 6:00.”
We all get it, all of us mommies and daddies. And when you lobbed out “the last time I tried my bold association of foodism with rank misogyny,” you were thwarted by your feminist friend. Wait, what’s happening here?
And then suddenly you’re equating liking to cook with “‘I like not working and having no opinions and being everyone’s handmaiden? Hasn’t women’s false consciousness about their ‘preferences’ always been a part of the sexist equation?” WAIT, WHAT’S HAPPENING?
Oh, hold up, I was liking you! And even later in your article, I found some “I’m with you” points; for instance, other than occasionally pureeing some leftover squash I did not (repeat NOT) make my own baby food. I loved the sound of the vacuum-sealed lids of those jars releasing that “pop” of air; hey, baby, dinner is ready!
But you really lost me when you came out swinging and insulted all of us who are trying to make things a little easier for people who aren’t as into cooking as we are, but who would like to like cooking more. This is the point that I think got swept under the rug. (Ah, wait, I said swept. I am insinuating that you would need to sweep something, which is very misogynistic of me.) If you are happy defrosting and taking out, Okay! I’m not going to bother you! More kale for me! (Just kidding, I don’t really want any more kale.)
I know there are dads who cook. I have seen some of them with my very own eyes. But day in, day out, the reality is that most of the adults responsible for getting family meals on the table are, you know, moms. Women. Lady people. And like my friend Jenny who pens Dinner: A Love Story I also spend my fair share of time hearing out people who really, really, really wish they could be more comfortable and confident in the kitchen.
Is there guilt? Often. Is this productive? Nah. Are there tears? Only a couple of times. But there is a hankering for things to be better, and while some of it may be caused or exacerbated by the picture-perfect world of family eating presented in some media and books, most of it is simply spurred by the desire to eat good food with our families. *Gasp*. So retro, so misogynistic.
Should it always be the mom at the stove? Of course not. It should be whoever likes it. I like it more. If neither mom nor dad is all that psyched about it, take turns, and you know, defrost something sometimes.
There are a bunch of us family-cooking people (not all, it’s true) who are perfectly happy to be honest about what’s hard, and what’s frustrating, and we still like to cook, and we’re still going to try and help you like it more, too. We’re going to write recipes, and recipe headnotes, and shopping lists for you, and we’re going to tell you why it’s a nice thing to have dinner with your family when you can. So there.