History tells us that cooking is the woman’s job. It teaches us that cooking is a form of oppression, handcuffs disguised as a chore, a duty. They said women couldn’t vote because they wouldn’t be willing to cook anymore, they would reject their femininity. Women couldn’t fight as they must stay home and cook, waste not while the men sorted the issues. A woman’s place is in the kitchen, that’s what they said. And in a way, it’s fallen into our nature; we grow up seeing our mothers cooking dinner for when Dad gets home, we get little plastic kitchen sets to play with as children, we’re sent to help serving up the food for the big family dinner on a Sunday.
It’s no surprise that so many women reject it. We’re all fed up of misogynistic sandwich jokes, sarcastic comments about being ‘where we belong’ when we step foot into a kitchen at a party. It’s age old, and for many, it’s tiring enough to make them retire from the kitchen; step away from the worktop and opt for a staple routine of basic meals, meals out, the bare minimum. Or some swing the other way, clinging on to the traditionally feminine act of baking taught to them as young girls, but never braving a cuisine. You can see it in the media, with the majority of leading chefs being men, while the lesser percentage of female celeb chefs are presented as over-sexualised or feminine to the extreme, all pink and flowers and lace. It’s no wonder women often step away. It’s a craft with a history of oppression, and a remaining stigma and expectation, tainted by ideals and roles like etiquette, tradition, motherhood and wifehood.
In 2017, no woman should have to be in the kitchen. But we can choose to be there.
Cooking can be feminist. Learning to create something from scratch solely through your own doing, providing food as a comfort for yourself and for others if you so wish, fuelling yourself, caring for your body, controlling what you spend your money on and what you give your body; these are all feminist things. If you want it to be, cooking or baking can be the ultimate exercise of control and self-power.
An important part of feminism is having control over our bodies. We can choose to do whatever we want with our amazing bodies, we should have full ownership and power over what is ours and only ours. Cooking is an exercise of that; a simple reminder every day. When you cook and feed yourself by your own hands and your own doing, you have full control over what is fuelling your body. You can go even further; learning exactly what your body needs to thrive, and what is in the food you buy and exactly what is going into your body. Through diet and cooking, you can get to know your body on a new level, learning to treat it with kindness and respect by fuelling it with not only what it needs, but what it wants. Learning recipes that make you feel good physically and mentally, but also learning complete pig-out recipes that cheer you up, it opens up a new relationship between yourself and your body. Own yourself simply by knowing what’s on your plate and what’s in your stomach.
But feminism isn’t just personal and neither is food. Feminism is all-encompassing and global, our individual actions affect and reflect wider issues and wider ethics.
Imagine each pound in your purse is a polling card. Your money is your vote, a tick of approval for the companies and industries you support. What are you going to buy?
Home-cooking allows new levels of control over your ethics as well. When buying food you can so easily support or boycott certain brands and industries. You can make the decision to pass your hand over the meat and onto the vegetarian or vegan substitutes because the meat industry doesn’t align with your ethics, therefore you won’t fund it. You can skip over anything you believe to be wasteful or damaging to the environment, anything with too much packaging, anything you know is damaging the rain forest, anything you believe to be cruel. Not only do you have control over your body, but your money and your ethics.
Although you can do this to a degree in a restaurant, you’ll never know the details of each ingredient like you do with DIY food. If you wanted to, you could learn so much about your food. You could research farms, factories, and individual brand’s ethics, to decide whether you want to give it your money. With our privilege, we can reflect our ethics in our shopping and, therefore, in our meals. And the end product on your plate is something you wholly agree with; you can be proud, not only of your skills, but of your conscience as each thing you put in your body, aligns with your brain.
Cooking is an exercise of choice and action. It doesn’t have to be the trap it was once seen as, cooking the same meal every night for an ungrateful party. It can be creative and exciting, an extension of your ethics and your love. Just like your feminism. It can be private and personal, or it can be shared.
Another thing that cooking has always been is social. As problematic as the reference is, food used to be for feasting, for the rich to come together and celebrate. It was street parties for victory. Big sit-down meals for an occasion. And for me, that’s the thing that got me cooking; the longing to be able to sit down with my friends and loved ones, and present them with a token of love that wasn’t materialistic, but the embodiment of care.
And now, to me, sisterhood and cooking are intertwined. My cooking is social. It’s a big pasta bake shared with two friends after a hard day of uni, it’s a cake for a friend going through a hard time, it’s a fajita night when my group of friends haven’t hung out in a while. It’s even as simple as a batch of biscuits, even a coffee made by me for them. Cooking is a powerful shared experience. It’s this reason that world leaders and politicians share meals, why we connect emotions to food; comfort food, treat food, energy food. It’s proven that people that share meals with each other tend to be more emotionally open and trusting.
This is why those meals you share with your family, your partner, your friends make you feel so much more satisfied and happier than eating alone. You can engage in conversation, some of the best conversations about beliefs and politics happen across the dining table. You can share stories and catch up, support one another, build each other up, using your home-made food as a compliment, showing someone you appreciate them. It’s been a host without the handcuffs. Make your food, bring it to the table and sit down. Join in the conversation, bask in the thank yous, enjoy yourself and the food you’re proud of. Enjoy being in the kitchen, then enjoy leaving it. You belong at your own party.
It’s a microcosm for feminism. Control of your body, control over your ethics, choice, something personal, something social and public, coming together which a commonality and using it as a starting point for discussion. Cooking is no longer the trap it used to be, being a woman in a kitchen need not be a life-sentence nor a burden. Its independence, a challenge started and completed a simple exercise of control and mindfulness that always produces an outcome.
This isn’t a call to arms to teach all the girls to cook, force your daughter into the kitchen and make her learn to make a lasagne. It’s simply a reminder that cooking is neither a feminine thing, nor a thing to steer clear of as a feminist. It’s simply a skill. Anyone can belong in the kitchen, and there should be no trap there. Cooking can be radical and feminist, a declaration of love without the chains of gender expectation, a social activity to not just cater but be involved in, to not just host but fully curate from your own ethics and tastes.
Feminism is control, choice, power, ethics, sharing, caring, supporting. And all those things translate in the plate you’re bringing to the table.