Amanda Marcotte, a feminist who blogs at Slate’s XX, wrote an article headlined “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.” You would think I was joking but I already told you it’s by “That’s Our Amanda!” Marcotte and it appears at Slate.
Or as one woman put it:
It’s I guess what you can expect from feminists — sniping that the stress for women of at-home cooking isn’t worth the benefits. And maybe family dinners are tyrannical for the Marcotte family and we should cut her some slack. I don’t know.
A line from the last paragraph gives you an indication of the tone and content:
[Cooking is] expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.
Earlier she quotes from a study about the perils of home cooking:
Even when people have their own homes, lack of money means their kitchens are small, pests are hard to keep at bay, and they can’t afford “basic kitchen tools like sharp knives, cutting boards, pots and pans.”
I mean, cooking is something that people around the world do — and that includes the world’s poorest women. Yes, cooking is time-consuming. Some might not even think it’s worth the time. But to take one of the world’s oldest and most widespread practices as a sign of privilege is laughable. Pests! Knives! I mean, does this privilege porn ever end?
And just because cooking is hard for some people doesn’t mean that we can’t admit home-cooked meals are a good thing. And not tyrannical for crying out loud.
In any case, here are a few thoughts from a daily home cook about this totally typical feminist approach of deriding home-cooked meals and other home economics:
1) Let’s talk about the benefits of home-cooked meals.
A study Marcotte cites is super-focused on the burden of cooking and how stressful it is to prepare a meal. Don’t I know it. My family eats together every single night. The vast majority of the time — basically all the time — we eat home-cooked meals. Sometimes these meals are more like “home-heated-up fish sticks!” and sometimes they’re more complex, but when my husband and I married, I insisted that we begin eating together as a family and we do. It’s unbelievably difficult to plan and execute meals. I hate it half the time. And I love cooking! But the grind of having to figure out what we’re eating, shopping for the ingredients and adjusting based on high produce and meat costs, and then timing the whole meal to come out at the right time … it’s hard. I’m not going to lie.
One of the main reasons we do it is for the integrity of our family and the discipline of time together. We have a tradition of watching (and discussing) Jeopardy! together at the front end of our meal and then discuss our day and plans for the next day after the Final Jeopardy round is complete. Through this regular time together, we grow together as a family. We learn about what’s bothering our kids or we learn hilarious stories about the days’ events. The kiddos get to learn how adults talk to each other and they learn how to eat at a table politely so that when we do go out to restaurants, they behave. If we go over to friends’ houses, the kids know how to not bother the adults as well. Yes, it’s work, but the benefits are many.
And I hate to appeal to studies … but … studies indicate that eating together as a family helps protect children from the effects of bullying and is usually associated with lower rates of eating disorders and teen pregnancy as well as higher GPAs and self-esteem.
2) It’s totally cheaper than eating out.
Another big reason why we do home-cooked meals is because it is dramatically cheaper than eating out at restaurants with a commensurate level of quality. It’s not cheaper than McDonald’s, no, but I can routinely make meals for the entire family that cost less than what it would take to feed just two adults. Sometimes it’s hardly even that! Chicken adobo is yummy and super inexpensive. But frequently we just do a bag of salad mixed with some chicken. Easy, quick, cheap.
3) It’s totally healthier than eating out.
Restaurant meals are fantastic in part because they’re loaded with calories and frequently high in carbohydrates. Which is great and fine if you’re dining out occasionally. But a regular habit of eating out will pack on the pounds and put you at risk of gout. Home cooking allows you greater control over the nutritional value of the meal. And, again, you can actually get nutrition from canned and frozen vegetables, too. So even if you don’t have a garden in your back yard or money to buy expensive produce, you would be surprised. And I’m telling you — the advances in the technology of frozen vegetables are amazing. They are not the mushy frozen veggies of my childhood but seriously good. I had some frozen broccoli last night with the pork chops my husband grilled, in fact.
A really good resource on the benefits of eating food you prepare is from … well, that’s awkward … it’s Amanda Marcotte.
4) Kind of sucks about the breakdown of the family and how everyone has so devalued homemaking that parents now have to work full-time and cook.
The big elephant in the room of the Slate piece is, of course, how family breakdown and the pressure to leave homemaking have put women in a serious bind. Women are having to work horrible hours to get by and raise their kids, frequently alone, and then come home and manage meal preparation with homework and all the other responsibilities of family life. It’s almost like the breakdown of the family has hurt poor women disproportionately. And as for those blessed to have greater material wealth, many women were told that careers should never suffer because of the demands of family and so they have to work long hours and then rush home to get kids from the daycare and then figure out meals. It’s utterly exhausting. A feminism that didn’t advocate policies and practices that weaken families would seriously help out here. As would a feminism that didn’t make women feel so terrible for being home with their children
5) A parent’s job is to feed their kids. How they do it is up to them.
A home-cooked meal need not involve home-cooking. A parent’s vocation certainly includes feeding his or her children, but how he or she chooses to do it is up to them. Yes, some parents have incredibly difficult situations that are unsustainable — feeding kids on the street or in cars or hotel rooms. And we must always look for ways we can serve our neighbors in need of a helping hand. That includes people in more stable situations who still struggle. But for those of us who are just struggling with time management or the stress of parenting and working, we should remember that sandwiches and pizza and pasta can be affordable and time-sensitive ways to feed our children.
6) The ungrateful problem
Ms. Marcotte says that ingrates don’t appreciate their mother’s cooking as a way of arguing against the practice. This made many people laugh:
Now, it’s certainly true that children aren’t born being grateful. They must develop this virtue. They develop gratitude primarily by parents inculcating that virtue in them. But also, we don’t serve our neighbors because they’re grateful. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. So don’t get hung up on the fact that other people don’t appreciate you as much as they should. I have news for you. You don’t appreciate them as much as you should either! So just focus on your own lack of gratitude and gently nurture it in others.
7) Cooking is a labor. A labor of love.
Who knew that having a family was so difficult? Oh, all those women who were told they were oppressed by being homemakers and were promised liberation by feminists only to find out that they now have to work all the time, frequently with no spouse, and come home and take care of the kids? Yeah, those women and their daughters know that cooking is difficult. As do all the fathers who help share the burden of providing meals for a family to eat.
But instead of looking at it as just a burden, we should look at is a holy blessing. It’s funny to read Martin Luther on this topic because he sounds so modern. He notes that married men might complain, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves?” How to view this, he asks? He says to view it as a holy blessing. “I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”
We should view the drudgeries of all life — drudgeries we all experience in one way or another — as holy blessings. We get to serve God by serving each other. So when we have to make the eleventy billionth meal in a row, we can either lament our sad condition or view it as an opportunity to do good for others.
I know, not a typical feminist viewpoint and not a typical American viewpoint. But it’s amazing how much more enjoyable the home-cooked meal (and home-changed diaper, and home-delivered kiss, and home-laundered clothing and home-swept floor and home-based cuddle) is when we consider how blessed we are to be doing what’s right for our children and other family members.
And while we should also view our labors-for-cash-money endeavors in a similar light, if we’re looking at our vocations, it’s hard to elevate corporate life over family life the way our society so frequently does. Besides, what’s the alternative?