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- Essay On Food For Nigella Issue Of Stylist Magazine - December - Jeanette Winterson
It had started out innocently enough: He'd invited a friend over for dinner, but I was on a high-pressure work deadline and had no time or mental energy to spare. That evening, he waltzed through the door from work, bubbling with enthusiasm. I met him in the kitchen, exhausted and hungry. I stared at him for a moment, and felt myself crumple in frustration. The strength of my reaction to this question surprised even me.
Why on Earth was I so upset? It took some deep breaths, and a bit of damage control that evening, and a number of halting, stumbling conversations over the course of the next few months, but eventually I put my finger on it. In offering to make dinner, my husband, with the absolute best of intentions, had focused on the one thing he'd promised to do: grab a pot and a pan, put something in it, and make edible food. But what I'd wanted him to do was much more complex, so ingrained in my experience of cooking that I didn't even think to articulate it.
I wanted him to pick up the baton. To check what ingredients we already had, and what might need using up. To plan out a meal that would meet everyone's dietary needs and preferences including a balanced amount of protein and starch, and at least one vegetable. I wanted him to look up recipes, and make a grocery list if needed, and stop by the store on the way home. I wanted him to make food appear without my having to think about it. I wanted him to make dinner. And it hadn't even occurred to him to look in the fridge before he left for work that morning.
This wasn't entirely his fault: I realized that he didn't want to guess at the cooking process on his own because I had so thoroughly claimed my title as the keeper of the food. For those of us who cook frequently, planning and strategizing for meals becomes background noise. It's part of the mental load , the running list of small decisions and knowledge required to maintain a household.
And as with so much of that mental load, cisgender women like me end up shouldering the lion's share. We are trained to reflexively and uncomplainingly take on as much of the mental load as we can possibly bear. And cooking is still a highly feminized pursuit; it's a skill girls are implicitly expected not only to learn, but enjoy doing. To be feminine, we are told, we must be hospitable, nurturing, giving — qualities that are intimately bound up with feeding those around us. If a meal isn't balanced and complete, if someone isn't happy with their portion, if it costs too much or doesn't land on the table on time, it feels like a personal failure.
Of course, I know plenty of cis women who have little or no interest in cooking, and a smaller number of cis men who happily take on food prep duties for their entire households. But when I hear a woman admit that she doesn't cook, it's usually with embarrassment or shame in her voice; when I hear a man say that he cooks for his family, it's a point of pride, a marker of going above and beyond. Because women are expected to know how to cook by the time we reach adulthood, we tend to be better, or at least more practiced, at it than our male partners.
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When you're better at something, it seems only natural that you be the one to do most of it. And if you're doing the cooking, then it's only natural that you do all the other associated labor too.
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Because we have no separate name for that labor — it's all just "cooking" — those who have internalized the mental load define it one way, and those who have been allowed to dabble see it very differently. When my husband volunteered to do the cooking that evening, I thought he was allowing me to free up some of my cognitive resources, so that I could apply them elsewhere.
He thought he was just in for a bit of manual labor.
We were speaking different languages. As far as straight cis marriages go, mine is pretty darn egalitarian. I'm proud of that.
And yet, when it comes to food prep, we've slid neatly into our societally-defined roles: me as the boss of the kitchen, and my husband as the person who takes directions and otherwise stays out of my way. I'm the one who remembers which of our loved ones is allergic to black pepper, which store stocks the brand of pretzels he likes, how long ago we bought that jar of peanut butter.
But neither of us had realized the mental toll of this dynamic, until that evening. I'd love to say that was the last time we had this particular argument — that we've hashed it all out now. But the mental load of food prep is still lopsided in our house.
I still like to cook more than my husband does; I'm still the keeper of what's in the fridge. But at least now we can recognize and name the forces at work — just one more step towards balance on our literal and metaphorical plates. Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.pupenrocingman.gq
Essay on Pleasures of Eating
Sign up for our free email newsletters. Zoe Fenson. Today's best articles. They seem very happily married, which remains a complete mystery to me. Of course there have been adjustments to cooking for two. On our first night back home after dropping our youngest at college, I found myself serving pork tenderloin in a sesame seed glaze. The meal had symbolic significance. Both my kids are adventurous eaters, but they have their limits.
My daughter refuses to eat pork. My son has a severe allergy to nuts.
So right out of the gate, dinner ventured into formerly forbidden territory. Slowly, once-shunned ingredients — couscous, lima beans — made their way back to the menu plan. I still tend to overbuy and cook too much, adjusting from the appetites of ravenous teenagers to those of middle-aged people trying to maintain healthy weights.
In this phase I am also expanding my cooking horizons. For instance, the local churches and synagogues in our area have joined forces to feed and house local homeless people during the winter season. There are no nearby shelters. There is still plenty to dish out on the home front, too. We also have a new tradition: the welcome home dinner. And that, of course, is my favorite cooking of all. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box.
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Essay On Food For Nigella Issue Of Stylist Magazine - December - Jeanette Winterson
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