Men in Aprons: An Ode to Gourmet Magazine

By Emma Wartzman

In 1941, Good Housekeeping ran an advertisement touting stoves that use natural gas -- "the wonder fuel for cooking." Placed by the American Gas Association, it showed a husband (with a faithful dog by his feet) and wife (with a cat by hers), each explaining why it would make sense to buy this newfangled kitchen appliance. "I'm too busy to wait for the kettle to boil, the oven to warm up ... I want all the grand new time-saving and work-saving features I'd get on a modern gas range," she says. "Guess it would be smart to take Mary downtown to pick one out tomorrow!" he says.

That same year, Ladies Home Journal ran an ad for Pyrex Ware -- what "you need to bring your kitchen up-to-date and to help you be a better cook!" The "you" was, naturally, a woman, her silky brown hair pulled back to better reveal her sparkling eyes. Feature stories in these magazines made clear that cooking (and other household chores) were strictly women's work. American Magazine, for example, ran a piece by Robert J. Knowlton that spoke of the ease any housewife had in completing her job, if  "she wasn't stubborn, tied down by tradition, a poor organizer, and even just plain lazy."

Women writers, for their part, generally held the same attitude. "Ted comes home at about 5:30 P.M., so 4:30 is Ginger's deadline for beginning the evening meal," Grace L. Pennock wrote in Ladies Home Journal. "We asked Ginger if she ever kept Ted waiting because she forgot to put in the roast on time. Did the peas ever cook to mush while she made gravy?"

And so it went in issue after issue of many of America's bestselling magazines through the 1940s and '50s. Rosie the Riveter may have found her way to the factory floor during World War II, but you'd never know it by looking at these publications. As far as they -- and presumably the majority of the nation -- were concerned, women were stuck inside the kitchen.

But in the midst of all this, a different voice was born: Gourmet. In the late 1930s, veteran magazine publisher Earle MacAusland came up with an idea for a publication that focused on gastronomy, but in a new light. Forget the practical struggles of preparing dinner. Forget cooking as a chore. The aim was for Gourmet to serve as a gateway into the world of culinary delights -- the world of cooking for the sake of experiencing and wholly enjoying food.

The most striking aspect of the magazine, though, was that its intended readership included men. In fact, when the first issue was released in January 1941, 73 years ago this month, not a single image of a woman graced any of its 48 pages. It was unlike anything that anyone had ever seen before.

To be sure, there had been a few cookbooks written by men for men, including The Stag Cookbook in 1922 and The Best Men Are Cooks in 1941. And, of course, there had been a long history of high-end male chefs that came out of France ever since the beginning of the 19th century. But Gourmet was aiming not only for professional chefs. By dint of being a monthly mass-market magazine, its reach and cultural impact was extensive.

Gourmet would thus presage -- and arguably contribute to -- an ever-increasing number of men cooking at home. In 1965, women spent an average of 9.5 hours a week preparing meals, compared with just 0.8 for men. By the late 1990s those numbers had shifted dramatically; women now spent 5.4 hours cooking each week versus 2.3 for men, reflecting not only the fact that more women had moved into the outside labor force, but also that more men had clearly grown comfortable wielding a spatula.

Read this article in full on Food Politic: Journal of Food News and Culture.