Michael Pollan and Feminism: Is the food movement oppressing women?

Michael Pollan, cooking, and feminism

A friend on Facebook recently shared an article from Salon: “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?” He asked a few foodie friends what we thought, and since it looks like this piece is making the rounds, I wanted to touch on it here and see what you guys think, too!

The gist of the argument is that the food movement is setting back other forms of activism by chaining women to the kitchen. Instead of marching on Washington, we’re baking fresh bread. Instead of organizing letter-writing campaigns, we’re shopping the farmers market.

What I think this glosses over is the power of doing these things. Buying local food isn’t just a chi-chi thing for rich people to do. It’s about supporting the loconomy and opting out of mass-produced foods. What’s more activist than saying no to Monsanto by voting with our wallets?

The assumption is that the food movement has people cooking more and that this is disproportionately a burden on women:

American women cook 78 percent of dinners, make 93 percent of the food purchases, and spend three times as many hours in the kitchen as men. And among those attempting to adhere to the slow food or locavore ethos, these meals have the potential to be much more complex and time-consuming than the rotisserie-chicken-and-frozen- veggie meals our own mothers served for us.

What that assessment doesn’t look at is the segment of the population that considers itself part of this food activism movement. Are 78 percent of the women in those families the ones cooking supper? And is it anti-feminist to cook supper? To me, feminism is about being able to make your own choices, and if women are choosing to get into the kitchen, there’s nothing inherently sexist about that.

It also assumes that cooking from scratch has to be time consuming, which it really doesn’t. Sure, you can bake a loaf of bread and make a complicated soup recipe from scratch, but I don’t think that’s what Michael Pollan really has in mind for all of us every single day. I actually kind of think its sexist to say that women are the ones spearheading this food revolution. Or just reaching to make an inflammatory point, maybe?

My male friends care just as much about food sourcing and preparation as my female ones, and many of the superstars in the food movement are males: Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver come to mind immediately.

For me it’s not about gender roles, it’s about protecting the planet and about animal rights. A man can make supper from scratch as easily as a woman, and Michael Pollan would be just as proud of that guy. I also don’t think he’s saying we all have to bake our own bread. He’s saying that if you don’t want to bake your own, find bread that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup and a bajillion preservatives in it.

The article also talks about “femivores:” women who it says are using the food movement to basically opt out of the feminist movement and into the kitchen, but I think that’s assuming that you can’t be a feminist and tie on an apron.

Those Michael Pollan quotes toward the end of the article do seem a bit iffy – women don’t have to be the ones in the kitchen, but taking those few quotes out of context and applying that attitude toward the food movement as a whole seems counter-productive, too.

Growing up, my dad did the cooking. Mom, I love you dearly, but you are a terrible cook, and it’s no secret. I learned to cook because I wanted to, and I cook now because I want to, not because my husband expects it, and the women I know who cook tend to feel the same way.

While I agree with the author that cooking in the old days is a little overly-romanticized, what I see people doing now is embracing the less processed foods of the old days, but in a totally modern way. And isn’t that what feminism is about? Freeing women up, so that we can choose to stay home and make jam from scratch or choose to work full time and “bolt down a granola bar before heading to her after-work Italian class,” or do anything in between?

I’m just not sure that encouraging folks to give cooking a try is a bad thing. Sure, there are folks out there that make you feel judged for not liking to cook. There are folks out there that want to make you feel judged for pretty much any choice you make. That doesn’t necessarily make their choices inherently harmful, does it? It just makes that handful of judgmental people…well, kind of jerky. But I don’t believe that a few jerks in a larger movement means that everyone in that movement is a jerk.

What do you guys think about the Salon article? Do you feel like women are losing societal ground by choosing to cook? Who is the cook in your house?

Image Credit: Cooking and Feminism image via Shutterstock

6 thoughts on “Michael Pollan and Feminism: Is the food movement oppressing women?”

  1. I’m just going to say it…I think this is bullsh*t. All too often there are articles like these to make us feel bad or not a feminist about our particular choices. Feminism is about being free to make whatever choices we deem best for us. Unencumbered by the guilt that this is trying to lay on us. Truth is, a lot of people don’t cook and that IS making us sick and fat. My choice to know where my food comes from and cook real food IS a radical act as well as a deliberate choice. A deliberate choice to take better care of myself. To give my money to farmers instead of doctors. To have to give as little to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies as possible. To continue to stimulate the local economy instead of buying into Monsanto’s idea of “pesticides and genetically mutated food are perfectly good for us.” They’re not. AND, I do all of this while running my own business, writing books, contributing writings to other websites, having an active social life and even performing with my local opera company. So how dare anyone say that this way of cooking takes too much time or is oppressive or whathaveyou. We have time for what is important to us. This is what is important to me so I make time for it. If it’s not important to you, fabulous. But don’t go trying to make others feel bad or guilty about it.

    Wow. That was a bit of a rant there, wasn’t it. *exit soap box, stage right*

    1. I think you nailed it right here, Melinda: “We have time for what is important to us.” I think that’s what makes cooking for our families just as feminist as a successful career outside the home: we get to choose. And it’s not just women who can and are making that choice.

  2. It is too laugh. So, according to some mythological economic heirarchy, trading hedge fund credit swaps is more “valuable” than cooking a decent meal, if you’re a woman? Bullpucky! I’m a guy. I cook at least 78% of the meals in our house, for me and my fashion-designer wife. But neither of us thinks that whatever we do at the office to bring home a paycheck is more meaningful than cooking a tasty, farmers’ market sourced meal. Feminists who buy into the “Wall Street” version of “value” are selling their souls…

  3. Though I’ve certainly heard Pollan called sexist before, I think that the original article might just be trying to make some thin links come together (I didn’t think those quotes were totally a part of the article). What is interesting though, is the final quote. She writes, “The historically inaccurate blaming of feminism for today’s food failings implies that women were, are, and should be responsible for cooking and family health. And, unsurprisingly, women are the ones who feel responsible.” Do women feel responsible for food? Probably– because even though there are plenty of men who cook/clean/shop/etc. it’s still very much the majority of women who do this work. And if we are passionate about locavorism or organic or GMOs, our purchases reflect that. That’s why it’s so important to have moms on our side for GMO issues or health issues– these are the people making the decisions and changing our food system. Does this mean that it’s not feminist? Of course not– I have an MA in Women’s studies and now I cook, teach, and write, and feminism (and locavorism) influences every aspect of that!

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