Although this song is so cheery and catchy that it makes me want to actually to pick up a broom and mesmerize a room (read the lyrics here), it’s a humorous touch on a subject I’ve thought a lot about: women in the workplace and how this relates to healthful eating.
In a Huff Post Food blog, Cooked: Is Fast Food Feminism’s Fault?, Martha Burk discusses the feminist aspect of real food crusader Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, which looks at how the earthly elements end up as food.
Anyone familiar with Pollan’s work understands his basic philosophy: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan has been a central figure in the real food movement that’s swept the country in recent years. It seems simple enough, but in a family with both partners working outside the home it can be hard to reconcile real food with the convenience of fast food.
There are so many other factors to consider that I’m not inclined to point directly at a connection between women leaving the home and the rise of fast food, but I do think it’s an interesting place to start a discussion about both women in the work place and the difficulty in finding time to prepare meals every night.
In a 2009 article for The New York Times Magazine, Pollan acknowledges some of these factors leading to the rise of our fast food culture: ” … women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so.” Pollan also notes that “cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing.”
Martha Burk seizes this point and asks: “With everyone at work, who was left to cook? Nobody. So, is fast food feminism’s fault? Pollan makes a brief but convincing case that the answer is no. Beginning in the 1970s women did go to work outside the home in unprecedented numbers. But that was as much because it took two incomes to keep the family afloat as it was about a desire to escape the suburban kitchen.”
Audie Cornish at NPR puts the lack of home cooking down to a lack of choice. “I think the debate about whether ‘we can have it all’ is really a debate among people who have the luxury of choice. It’s people who don’t ever have to worry about working and putting food on the table in the same way so they can really sit back and say, ‘What would make me happy?’ And I think for a lot of women for many generations, for lots of working-class women today, that is not an option.”
Burk thinks when it comes to feeding families, we’re still stuck in the ’50s. “It’s still her job, even if it now means picking up a pizza, or microwaving frozen concoctions that taste like the cartons they come in. Pollan urges both women and men — along with their kids — to get back in the kitchen, chopping onions and baking bread. A nice idea. But it ain’t gonna happen.”
Although Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, isn’t about cooking or healthy eating, she makes a strong case about the need for change that I think directly relates to this subject.
She says one of the most important decisions a woman can make for her career is the person she marries. On first glance this seems to be a statement in the opposite direction of feminism. But as someone who has been with a partner who refused to help in the kitchen, I know how critical this point is because an unequal partnership can quickly turn a home into another workplace.
As she discusses in the book, many women work just as much as men but are also left to take care of the majority of household chores, including cooking, because some men don’t even realize they consider it a woman’s work.
Luckily I didn’t have kids, but I can’t begin to imagine the stress these women feel, having to work a 40+ hour week or multiple jobs and then having to come home to feed a family, and then clean up after the family.
It was incredibly stressful for me to have to budget and plan meals for only two people (although it’s more like three, considering how much most guys eat!), cook every night, do most of the cleaning up and not get a break from it on the weekends or holidays. Every holiday for two years I spent all day in the kitchen, by myself. It’s no wonder many women aren’t as keen as men to “lean in” to their careers and take on more responsibility.
In an interview with Forbes, Katie Couric discusses the same point: “Women often have the same opportunities as men, but unfortunately, the imbalance of domestic duties makes it really challenging for a lot of working-women because they are still expected to do the lion’s share of the work when it comes to raising children. I think when we have a more egalitarian situation in homes across the country, that’s going to allow more women to take advantage of the opportunities that I believe exist.”
Sandberg describes at length what it means to have a partner who shares responsibilities in the home. I’ve dated exactly two men who not only would help me cook, but also didn’t mind cooking for me as often as or more than I’d cook for them. I understand how hard it is to be with someone who leaves you with the burden of household responsibilities, so I agree completely with her about how important it is to have a partner in the true sense of the word.
Eating well takes work. It’s not too much work when I’m cooking for myself, because I can eat leftovers for three days and I don’t have to cook every night. But managing a career and household is a lot of work. One of them likely will have to give if you have no help. Although I love cooking, it can sometimes feel like a chore. When I cook with someone else, it’s not a chore. Rather, it’s an activity I enjoy and I hope in the future I’m with someone who sees eating well and cooking together as an integral part of family life.
Mark Bittman, in his New York Times column, highlights recent efforts to get families back into the kitchen. He doesn’t touch upon the feminist connection, because perhaps there isn’t a strong one, but he does stress the importance of cooking with and for your children, and how this can be looked at as preventive medicine.
I’m a big believer in food as a unifying force for families and societies, so something as simple as cooking together seems to me to be a logical activity. Sadly, it’s not, but I’m very hopeful it will be soon. Every Saturday my parents both go to the Second Street Market in Dayton and together pick out fresh vegetables and meat for their week’s cooking. They always cook together and for each other, and when I’m home people laugh because all we talk about is food. And cats, but who doesn’t talk about cats? When we have family vacations (or a drive anywhere farther than an hour away) the first thing we plan is where we’ll eat each meal, but sometimes food is the destination. One time my dad made our family drive three hours to Toledo just to try a hot dog. We never let him forget that! With my friends it’s the same thing – we regularly host dinner parties and plan brunches. My trip to NYC: first thing planned was the food!
I’m hopeful that women and men having equal partnerships and more time, in conjunction with the incredible trendiness of cooking shows, food publications, local food markets and food trucks parked along every street, ultimately will allow real food to beat fast food culture and bring us all closer.