Cooking takes time and energy. I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes it can be a hassle, and makes that Wendy’s burger look like the answer to all your problems.
So of course, wives, mothers, and women in general shouldn’t shoulder all the burden of preparing good food. Many probably agree that any unspoken expectation for mothers and wives to consistently prepare home-cooked meals is burdensome and unreasonable.
However, never missing the chance to foray into an exercise in unintentionally-comedic hyperbole, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte chars the Thanksgiving turkey to high heaven in her recent article, “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.”
The home-cooked meal has long been romanticized, from ’50s-era sitcoms to the work of star food writer Michael Pollan, who once wrote, ‘far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention.’
Well, we all know the incalculable evil done by ‘50s-era sitcoms, so at least that point is already given. Those 50s-era sitcoms with their idealization of happy families and life lessons, whatever can be done about their moral evil? It’s best to just leave it in that horrid, suit-wearing past. But then what about that Michael Pollan? He has no right to suggest some women enjoy cooking. How would he know? Because it tastes good?
Single Moms Have Less Time
Researchers at North Carolina State University interviewed 150 mothers and found home-cooked meals stress many mothers who didn’t have the time or money to do it. Low incomes, irregular work schedules, and being a single mother were all factors. That’s unfair, and it’s sad. The United States is now a country where the number of children living in single-parent homes has almost doubled since 1960 and one-third of American children are raised sans father.
But to get into how that could be connected to social values or the economy would just be frivolous, I think. Let’s focus on the actual pain and suffering of making meals in hotel sinks as your children yell for food, as Marcotte does.
As someone who was raised solely by my mother, I can sympathize and have the utmost respect for women and single mothers. A busy work schedule and my and my sister’s demands for attention were no small matter, I’m sure. I can only imagine the stress and exhaustion that was sometimes caused by having to cook up a stir-fry or soup when all my mother wanted to do was rest. But are home-cooked meals themselves the root issue here?
Perhaps the breakdown of the family and outsourcing of labor and the economy has a small part to play in this debate? Oh, I’m sorry Amanda, that was reality just kicking down your door a bit there.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
Not only that, researchers found that women interviewed commonly complained of picky children who didn’t want the food they made. Husbands and boyfriends were even worse, reportedly. If the kids and ignorant menfolk just want fast food anyway, why not give it to them? I’m sure Michelle Obama would have a compromise that could satisfy all. It would probably involve carrots and attacking vending machines.
But wait, Marcotte has more to say about the evil of home-cooked meals:
It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway. If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.
Expensive and time-consuming is true in many cases, I’m sure. But women who can’t afford fresh produce (which is often the cheapest of items in the grocery store) preparing meals in sinks and dealing with the whining and demands of misogynistic male pigs sounds like a bit of an extreme case here.
It sure doesn’t sound pretty. And I know in many cases it isn’t. But is this really what the world needs to be outraged about right now? Yes, men could well learn to enjoy cooking and share the time and effort of preparing home-cooked meals. It’s a point well-made. But to suggest that home-cooked meals are themselves a vehicle of male oppression is to miss the point.
Modern Life Squashes True Leisure
They are an example of the pace and isolation that modern, secular life has resulted in for many people. In many traditional cultures cooking is often a joy and a symbol of great pride for a woman. Do many of them secretly feel oppressed and angry as they prepare delicious food? It’s possible, but even more likely many genuinely take pride in it and in their role in preparing it, just as a man might take pride in completing a successful day on the construction site building a home.
But lest we stray into gender stereotypes: Yes, cooking is a worthy endeavor for both men and women, and even children (macaroni can be good). But when the worst women have to complain about is the evil of men liking great home-cooked food it sort of puts the problems of other women around the world in contrast.
Turn on the stove and cook something, husband or wife! I won’t turn it into a disingenuous article on Slate, I promise.