Before we resume TLT’s fifth annual “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch Series” tomorrow, I just wanted to share a few more thoughts about yesterday’s post regarding an article, The Joy of Cooking?,” which posits that most women generally loathe cooking and that we’ve all been fed an overly romanticized view of the task by writers like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.
First, I learned late yesterday that the Salon XX Factor writer, Andrea Marcotte, the one whose post about “The Joy of Cooking?” went viral, was so deluged with hateful comments as a result that she’s announced she’ll no longer follow her own mentions on Twitter. Even though all Marcotte did was relay the NC State researchers’ own conclusions about how women feel about home cooking, Marcotte
got slammed on Twitter by extremely hostile conservatives, most of whom didn’t seem to have read the post that riled them up so much. What was unnerving was how the reaction was just so personal.
The most common tactic was to “diagnose” me, arguing that I am crazy and unloved and therefore I hate dinner, families, and perhaps joy itself. The right wing website Twitchy sent most of it my way by calling me a “perpetual victim,” even though I did not mention my own relationship to cooking and the post had nothing at all to do with me. “Is @AmandaMarcotte an oppressed victim when she feeds her cats?”read a typical tweet. “I wonder if @AmandaMarcotte is ever happy about anything,”wrote another. “She’s not snarky, just bitchy and miserable. And you know what they say about misery loving company and all…” wrote a self-appointed Twitter psychologist. . . .
As someone who has dealt with her own share of hostile and often quite personal online comments (maybe more than my share, actually), I feel a lot of empathy for Marcotte and am sorry I’ll now be unable to connect with her on Twitter due to her new policy.
But the heated reaction to Marcotte’s post and, by extension, “The Joy of Cooking?” demonstrates, not for the first time, how discussions of cooking can ignite a powder keg of emotions surrounding gender roles, class, ethnicity and even right/left wing politics. Many of you asked, for example, why the NC State researchers only talked to “moms?” Aren’t we just perpetuating the myth that cooking is exclusively a woman’s duty with this sort of study? And later I wondered if I had exposed my own class/ethnic biases when I implied that a lot of the women interviewed, due to their economic status, might be unaware of the recent “elevation” of family dinner, i.e., the degree to which writers like Bittman and Pollan now view home cooking as a key to improving our health and our food supply, as well as new pressures put on home cooks by media such as Pinterest and the Food Channel.
One reader also informed me that “The Joy of Cooking?” was not, as I had written, a strictly “academic” piece, given that it appeared in Contexts, an outlet intended for a general audience. I accept that correction but still feel that if authors — hailing from academia or not — are going to make such sweeping conclusions based on “150 interviews,” then we’re entitled to know a bit more about those interviews: how they were conducted and whether the responses were truly as uniform as the writers in this case lead us to believe. Also, while the use of the 1950s advertising illustrations is a little less jarring to me now that I understand the nature of the publication, my original point still holds: those pictures were intended to needle “foodies” (Pollan, et. al) who ostensibly urge people to cook without having a clue about the harsh realities of their daily lives.
And though I mentioned this in passing yesterday, I want to reiterate that I fully understand why home cooking can be a dispiriting chore for many. On my best days, when I’m in the mood to cook and the recipe turns out well and everyone sighs with happiness at the end of the meal, I share Pollan’s view in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation that preparing your own food makes your world “literally more wonderful.” And on days when I have to drag myself from satisfying writing work to dash into a store to buy groceries, then take even more time to chop and cook that food, only to seethe with barely concealed resentment as my kids half-heartedly poke at the meal (or, worse, offer some choice commentary about it), and then clean the whole mess up (on nights when Mr. TLT brings some work home and is relieved of dish duty), then I regard cooking as just one big pain in the ass. And I suspect most people who cook on a regular basis, for years on end, feel the same way.
Given that cooking is not an unmitigated joy for many of us, here’s where I’ll offer a plug for a few resources that, in my experience, really do make home cooking easier. I love Sally Kuzemchak‘s Cooking Light’s Dinnertime Survival Guide, in part because, unlike many family dinner cookbook writers, she’s willing to tackle the obstacles that can feel insurmountable — kids who are on different evening schedules, lack of cooking skills, tight food budgets, or families in which the cook is trying to lose weight. I’m also a longtime fan of Aviva Goldfarb’s Six O’Clock Scramble cookbooks as well as Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food recipes, both of which tend to hit my personal sweet spot of complexity of flavor versus ease of preparation on a weeknight. And though I haven’t yet read it, I’m also eager to check out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Fast.
Finally, I just wanted to tell you that yesterday’s post now appears under a slightly different title on HuffPost Food.
Thanks again for the stimulating discussion yesterday on Twitter, Facebook and here on the blog.
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