Monday, August 10, 2009

Confessions of a Kitchen Bitch

In her recent article, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” in The Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh writes about marital relations and divorce. Along the way, she makes a few snarky comments about men who cook or—more accurately—a certain type of man who is obsessed with cooking.

“To work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones who schedule 'date night,' only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, to be ignored—it’s a bum deal.”

She really hammers one particular man who is devoted to Cooks Illustrated and his "online fennel club," but you get the feeling she's going after a certain type of guy.

Since I’m a man who cooks (although not usually obsessively), this got me thinking about the gender implications of cooking. Is cooking a masculine or feminine thing?

In some homes, cooking has been traditionally regarded as “women’s work,” along with housecleaning and laundry. But, the world of commercial cooking has long been dominated by men.

Certain types of cooking are thought of as more gender specific than others. Baking is stereotypically feminine, while grilling is the epitome of manliness.

I grew up in a home with very traditional roles in the kitchen. Dad went off to work; mom took care of the kids and put dinner on the table every night. I have some vague memories of my dad doing something in the kitchen, but they are few and far between.

I’ve written before about my mom teaching me the basics of cooking. She was a firm believer in showing her three boys essential life skills such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Such things were never considered women’s work in our house. She cooked because it made sense.

My dad is retired now and, ironically, has enthusiastically embraced some culinary activities. As a former chemical engineer, I imagine he appreciates the alchemy of cooking. He also likes to eat, much like his son.

I spent a number of years working in a café where the duties were well-defined: the women ran the register and the guys made the food. In the last kitchen I worked in, there was one female chef. Women in restaurant kitchens are fairly common these days, but men vastly outnumber them.

In the current era of celebrity chefs and TV cooking shows ad nauseam, lots of men are getting into cooking. Some might even be a little obsessed with it. I am certainly familiar with this phenomenon, although it’s probably a bit more common in Tsing Loh's social circle than mine.

I wrote just recently about cooking. I cook because I like to cook. E is a good cook, but she’s happy to sip wine and keep me company. True to the stereotype, she’s much better at baking than I am.

But, am I a male kitchen bitch? At the very least, E doesn't call me that publicly.

I don’t think cooking is either masculine or feminine. I do have to chuckle at a strong, independent woman like Tsing Loh mocking men for being overly interested in cooking, after so many years of women demanding more sharing of household responsibilities. Maybe it's a case of, be careful what you wish for.

I would encourage any young man (or woman) to develop some ability in the kitchen. It will reap major dividends for your health, your waistline and, quite possibly, your love life. Do not, however, forgo the affection of your wife, husband, partner or significant other for an evening curled up with the latest issue of Cooks Illustrated.

That just seems like common sense.

Cooking should be an act of love, regardless of your gender. It should be about providing delicious and healthy food for yourself, your loved ones and your friends. A good meal is also time well spent: talking, laughing, possibly drinking and enjoying the company of others.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back in the kitchen.


Anonymous said...

Very funny and interesting points. My mom was a domestic engineer while my father was a rocket scientist. I would often help my mom cook, but my father would always eat cold cereal if there was no one to cook.

One Fathers day I took a gamble and bought him a grill in an effort to give my mom a break and see if I could ween my dad off cold cereal when there wasn't someone there to feed him. well, a few years later he is a reluctant griller but grilling and he still eats plenty of cheerios ...

Me on the other hand never growing up around a grill in my life or even a stove that produced a flame, i now find myself grilling three squares a day, even thanksgiving turkey..

here is to fire and food, and maybe some day grilled cheerios.

-cheers, mrT

John said...

Grilled Cheerios...hmmm. That's something I need to look into.

Thanks for the comment.