The question isn’t whether Michael Pollan is a sexist pig, because at this point the feminist blogosphere has clearly deduced that he is, but what makes him a sexist pig. The back-to-the-earth movement may have its benefits, but at what cost to women?
The feminist conspiracy theorist in me is certain that the organic, local, DIY movement is all a plot for a new wave of Angels in the House, started years ago by fauxgressives and capitalized on by Pinterest and Mormon mommy blogs. I like organic kale and farmers’ markets as much as the next hipster 20-something, but you’ll drag this fallen angel back in the house screaming something about patriarchy and waving a feminist flag.
The problem that many have identified is that people like Michael Pollan are calling out women for basically ruining American families with fatty, unhealthy food by not being there to make their families healthy meals. Like, women specifically. Because every time a man steps foot into a kitchen, the smoke alarms go off and the kids end up eating chips and old mayonnaise for dinner.
My grandmother liked to tell a story about how her father always knew when my great grandmother had a migraine. He would come home and the girls (my grandmother and great aunt) would have french fries on the table for supper because that’s all they knew how to cook. Yes, my little grandmother and her sister had to cook supper for a grown man because he couldn’t possibly be bothered to do it himself. Not surprisingly, he also voted against suffrage.
This whole trend of getting women back in the kitchen always reminds me of this story. It was the woman’s responsibility to cook in the 1940s, and according to Mr. Pollan, it’s the woman’s responsibility to cook now. And not just cook, mind you, but raise chickens and locate unpasteurized milk and make cheese and everything! Otherwise our kids might be fat!
But here’s the thing: processed foods were around before feminism. Don’t go blaming fictional bra-burners for your Kraft cheese, Pollanites. Anyone who has seen the horrors contained within a 1950s cookbook knows that anything deemed worth eating could be made out of canned meat and gelatin. Feminism is just an easy scapegoat. The idea that we ever had a “moral obligation” to do anything is disturbing. The fact that Pollan and others see morals as being tied to female domesticity is what is truly problematic.
There’s an interesting racial dynamic that is often missing from these discussions. Feminists (White feminists) tend to act like staying at home and cooking is the worst thing you can do as a woman; it’s a slap in the face to those who worked hard for you. You’re just spitting in the face of Betty Friedan. That may be true if you happen to be middle-class or upper-class and White just like those feminists who fought for you to work, but for women of color, it’s different. Yes, we have fought to be accepted in the workplace, because if Boss doesn’t want a White lady in the office, he sure as hell doesn’t want a Chicana there. Women of color historically have had to work in order to feed their families, because their families have historically been oppressed and impoverished. Staying home and baking bread from scratch was and for many still is a luxury. For women of color, devoting significant amounts of time to canning preserves because you want to and not because that’s how you’ll survive during the winter can be a radical act. Let’s not erase that.
I’m no choose-your-choicer, but I’m also not going to be the one to condemn somebody’s life choices. If your idea of a great time is raising chickens on your urban homestead and baking all your bread from scratch while cleaning your kitchen with nothing but organic vinegar and a sponge you got from your last beach vacation, then go for it. That does not, however, make that choice feminist. It doesn’t mean that such a choice isn’t dripping with the class privilege that allows someone to eat only organic food and devote significant amounts of time to preparing that food. I know, I know, lentils are OMGsooocheap, but nobody wants to live off of lentils, even if it does make them a better liberal.