Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

luna_virgo: (Witch)
As a girl in Alabama in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned that the kitchen belonged to women, and vice versa. My mother and most women in my family were homemakers when I was very young (before divorces and the 80’s economy). Some of my earliest memories are of my mother, my aunts, and my grandmothers stirring on the stove or chopping on the counter.

Food preparation was strictly segregated. Women ruled the kitchen, men controlled the outdoor grill. This was unquestioned. Women brought out the prepared meat to be grilled and then retreated to make everything else in the meal. Men feigned ignorance at any indoor food prep more complicated than a sandwich. This was the division of labor, and it was set in stone.

Now of course as a child I was sometimes handed a spoon covered with cake batter, and I was sent out into the back yard every fall with paper grocery bags to gather the pecans that fell from our two trees so my mother could make cookies and pies. I was occasionally allowed to stir a pot or sprinkle a seasoning, but for the most part I wasn’t required to take part in cooking until I reached puberty. Then the training began for what was apparently my predestined role in life.

Mom tried to teach me to cook. She really did. But I had no interest, possibly because she always made it clear she didn't enjoy it much herself though it was expected of her, and possibly because I was a sulky teenager in the first throes of feminist rebellion against gender roles. It didn’t help that her cooking was incredibly bland like my Midwest Grandma's (unlike my paternal grandmother who specialized in deep-fried, deeply unhealthy but very tasty Southern food). I decided as a teenager that I was not put on this earth to cook for anybody, period, thank you very much. Of course, in a few years life threw some truth at me. Somebody’s got to make the food, or you don’t eat.

In my 20's, I was blessed to have a relationship with a man who enthusiastically made hand-tossed pizzas for a living, and then another with a woman who was a camping and fishing outdoor type who taught me to cook over a barbecue pit in our back yard. I learned that making food didn’t have to be gendered drudgery. Now that I live alone, I’m getting more adventurous about experimenting in the kitchen, because I don’t have to please anyone but myself. At the same time, as I get older, I’m getting more nostalgic for those old family recipes. I recently made salmon croquettes from my grandmother’s recipe, and it brought back powerful memories, as well as making me appreciate the time- and labor-intensive work she and all the women in my family did every day without praise or acknowledgement, because it was expected of them.

(posted on DailyKos)

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