What would Betty Friedan think of the plethora of food bloggers and handcrafted jam makers out there? In the new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, Emily Matchar argues that writers like Michael Pollan and Caitlin Flanagan have vilified the feminist movement of the seventies and blamed the domesticity-be-damned ethos of women’s lib for the state of our current processed-food culture, and that’s probably not fair. Also, it’s silly to assume that everyone today should be obsessed with food crafting and home cooking. “It’s easy to forget,” she writes, “in the face of today’s foodie culture, that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.”
Matchar, whose book is excerpted on Salon, points out that the rise of processed foods and convenience-focused cooking started just after World War II and had everything to do with market forces — and with housewives who made things like The I Hate to Cook Book (1960) best sellers. “The food movement,” she writes, “with its insistence on how fun and fulfilling and morally correct cooking is, seems to have trouble imagining why women [in the late 20th Century] might not have wanted to spend all their time in front of the stove.”
In other words, while many people have found an escape from middle class, technology-saturated drudgery through the pleasures of cooking, this is a revivalist movement that isn’t always conscious of what it’s reviving. The age-old practices of pickling and canning seem quaint and fun for those with time to spare, and the homemade results can be far superior to supermarket equivalents. But pickling and canning do, in fact, take up quite a bit of time and effort, and it’s not just hardened feminists who figured this out a generation ago.
Matchar also makes the observation, ignored by many who surround themselves only with like-minded foodinistas who go to underground markets and food swaps and talk about restaurants all the time, that not everyone is all that interested in food. “The term ‘foodie’ was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not,” she writes. “Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food.”
Do women bear the brunt of these assumptions, and feel more moral obligation to get back into the kitchen now that they are being compelled to do so? Matchar argues that it is women who are assuming most of the guilt for the state of our food universe, and who are attempting to make up for it with their farmers’ marketing and cooking. She’s arguing that a decade of pieces like this one in Ms. from 2004 that began beating the drum for why feminists need to get back to caring about food, have ignored the possibility that it’s causing a backslide in the way women see themselves and construct their lives around the home.
And someone probably should put the popularly unimpeachable Michael Pollan in his places for writing recently that an appreciation of cooking “was a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.” We’re pretty sure that Gloria Steinem has nothing to do with our nation’s enduring love for Hot Pockets and Doritos Locos tacos.