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.
you go girl. great response.
Katie, The problem with Heffernan is that she hasn’t seen your book, “The Mom 100” which could have also been named “The Feminist 100.” I don’t really enjoy cooking, but I do get extreme satisfaction nourishing my kids during this critical time in their development. Would I prefer a personal chef? Wouldn’t everyone? But Moms like me need an affordable, healthy solution for meals while we save for college, which will be the value of my house times four when my kids go. You’re my culinary hero and your brilliant simplicity has allowed me more time to work and enjoy the activities that I love. Plus, you make me laugh every time. Thank you for what you do!
Wendi, your comment made my week. Thank you so much. :)
I can’t help but think that Heffernan wasn’t being a bit tongue-in-cheek…I got more sarcasm and humor out of her article than real angst. True, the lady doesn’t like or want to cook, but HEY! If she lives in NYC than she can have anything delivered pretty easily right? LOL I get both sides! My mom does NOT enjoy cooking and never has. My childhood was Hamburger Helper and Ragu sauce right out of the jar (Uggh). My husband and I love to cook and we serve up home cooked dinners 7 nights a week! :) Haters gonna hate…..cooks are gonna COOK!
very true! And I get the other side, too — I don’t like many domestic activities…..but I don’t want to make someone who knows how to fix a pumbing problem feel like they are a loser for knowing how, and liking to do it!
Bravo Katie. What well-spoken (written) words to counter this article. My husband, Greg, and I have been empty-nester’s for almost 10 years, and now I have the pleasure of watching my young adult children eating well and cooking. I believe that to be true because they grew up with family meals, even in the midst of after-school sports, and understood what “good food” was. We all pick different priorities for how we spend our time and what we value and it doesn’t have to be gender based. It was important to me to care about food, and what we consumed, and foods free of high salt and high sugar. I wanted that message passed down and now I can see the results. Keep the conversation going.
thanks, Diane, for your part in the conversation! I bet your kids are pretty fine cooks.
1. I am a nurse and good cooking is about good health and good taste.
2. I am a creative person and cooking is a creative effort.
3. Mealtime is important family time which does not occur at the same level in restaurants or over takeout.
4. Never let the bigots bum you out. I truly believe they are jealous of a good cook’s skill. Who will be remembered more – Julia Child, or a Times feminist writer? Give me a Mom-made birthday cake over a bakery cake anytime. I’ll bet your family says the same!
I am one of those males who cooks dinner. Like you, Katie, I love to cook and someone has to do it! We all gotta eat. I am retired and my wife still works, so who is the logical one to take care of our meals. More power to you!
Bravo! Well said! I read the article as well… with my mouth hanging open in disbelief.
interesting dialogue, though, yes?
Bravo for this wonderful piece – thank you, thank you! I have to say, Virginia’s line: “…stylish children helping to cook like cheerfully indentured galley slaves” nearly sent me over the edge. Helping prepare a meal can – and should be – a wonderful way to bond. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy – I do love to cook, but serve up my fair share of scrambled eggs – or cereal – for dinner on evenings when schedules are out of control, but wow, how could she possibly be so bitter about teaching kids this invaluable life skill of cooking? I do echo the thought in the comments above… “Why do we feel a need to be so combative about this issue? (sigh!)
it’s true — some nights eggs are just the thing, some nights you order a pizza, but success or failure shouldn’t feel so tied in to these choices (and we don’t have to be quite so attacky).
love, love your response to the article. I had a similar reaction of relating to a few points but than becoming increasingly frustrated that it was so hateful. your rebuttal is spot on.
Virginia’s article was right on.
Well, I think she made some very good points, but there were some things I feel differently about! But a do love a good dialogue on the subject.
you are now on my list of Very Cool People. thanks!
That’s a good list to be on!
I work full time.
I have 3 boys, a husband and a dog.
We have homework, after school activities, I like to go out with my friends as does my husband.
I COOK!! And I am proud of it!!
My boys are learning their way around a kitchen.
They are learning how to take care of themselves.
We eat together and they are learning table manners.
I did not read the original article and will not do so. I do judge other families that do not have home made meals on a regular basis.
I feel badly for your children and what they are not learning.
Oh, I think you maybe should read what I wrote again. We are in agreement, I believe. You might be thinking of the other point of view.
Yes. We are on the same page.
My apologies if I seemed a bit ragey. My frustration was directed to Virginia.
oh, got it!
That op ed was bat shit crazy. If you don’t want to cook, don’t cook. But there’s nothing wrong with liking to cook. It’s like liking to exercise or liking to read or liking anything else that supports a person’s well being. I am so thankful of the myriad food writers who helped me learn how to cook because my mother was very much the defrosting type. Actually, it was me who did the defrosting because even that was too food-focused for my mom. I’m glad you addressed here what I see as the fault of her piece: people who like or want to like to cook are not always casting aspersions on those who don’t want to. But cooking is a skill that many of us were never taught and there is, thankfully, a pretty passionate community of people willing to help others learn. If they want!
If they want, exactly. Each to his or her own, but I don’t want to feel badly about a) cooking, b) trying to help other people feel happier in the kitchen, or c) doing all of the above without being preachy.
I love to cook and thank goodness I do. I raised two kids by myself from the time they were 2 and 6 and I never got how going out was easier or faster for dinner than preparing something at home…I sure knew it wasn’t cheaper and that was, unfortunately, ALWAYS on my brain.
But still, I find it a great creative outlet and a way to nurture those I care about. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had Cheerios for dinner because when I don’t feel like it I don’t do it.
Still I’ve always been curious as to why the things that women (mostly) do always has to be a battleground. Cook or no cook…really not an identifier of your value anymore than SAHM or working mom. We should learn to be supportive of each other and our choices and not dig in our heels and exhibit constant oneupmanship. That is such a guy thing; I thought we were better than that!
Exactly. No battleground, and yes cheerios for dinner (in my case popcorn), and not measuring ones self worth on any of it. But for those who wish they liked cooking more, I hope I can help them get to that place.
Amen! Thank you for stating the obvious. If you are happy defrosting, great, enjoy! But don’t denigrate the rest of us who like cooking or want to help the many more that want to be more comfortable in the kitchen. Btw, we just had your cheesy beef skillet again and it was fabulous!!
I toast you with a spoonful of cheesy beefy noodle casserole.
Hooray, Katie, I was really put off by her article and love your response. I cook dinner because I want to eat dinner with my family and I don’t want us to eat prepared or store-bought food all the time, and as I’ve had more and more practice it really doesn’t take much time or effort to make a delicious and healthy meal. I love teaching other people who also want to share a meal with their families to take some of the time and stress and time out of the process by meal planning and making simple recipes. None of us are saying that anyone else has to make homemade dinners, but for those who want to, we can help.
A heartfelt YUP to all.