Michael Pollan Wants Women to Get Back in the Kitchen

ElfityFeminism34 Comments

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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.

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.
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ElfityMichael Pollan Wants Women to Get Back in the Kitchen

34 Comments on “Michael Pollan Wants Women to Get Back in the Kitchen”

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  1. Avatar of Corbin
    Corbin

    Oh. Pollen. That yuppie.

    Well I use actually like him an I wanted to get the omnivore’s dilemma. Frankly it’s not goddang surprise he is a pig. Most white males, with PHDs and privilege are kind of pigs. It’s kind of a ‘well no wonder’ for me.

    ANYWAAAAAY,
    The Local food movement, has ton of arrogant men running around and spouting stupid shit without realizing why women and queers always give them the side-eye. But I have a lot of issues with the local food movement, I love it don’t get me wrong. I support it, but there is a fuckton of problems.

    Also, if I catch another goddamn documentary using “Growing Power” as their token black co-op and urban farm to support the idea that the LFM is totally accessible to the hungry, poor and black, I will smack them.

    Local Food Movement is racist, classist, ableist and sexist. Thank you.

  2. Avatar of Silverwane
    Silverwane

    Ugh. Michael Pollan.

    I always got the idea that since HE loves cooking, he says “everyone should love this.” But he totally ignores the fact that 1) a lot of men will NOT cook, 2) even if the men will, women still bear the brunt most times, and 3) maybe he loved cooking so much because he came to love it on his own time and he was never taught it like it was his OBLIGATION to others.

    You know. Like I was.

    …And instead, he just continues to blame the people who are cooking for these problems. Who are overwhelmingly women.

    You’re an ass, Michael Pollan.

  3. Avatar of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    My father is the health-crazy guy in our (food-)family. Not that my mother is a 24/7 junk food guy, but my father can fix a vegan/gluten-free/vegetarian/and-so-on version of any meal in less than two hours.
    But ..is it less worthy because he doesn’t have a rack? Does he need to drop his fun in cooking because he’s got an Y-chromosome?

    People need to start owning up to the simple fact that you and nobody else but you are responsible for your food intake. Sometimes this will mean that it’s fucking hard to find a healthy meal, sometimes it will mean you can’t splurge on 12 donuts for 2 bucks because you already bought three healthy meals for ten. It also means that you do not want to care, nobody should kick you into the caring corner.

  4. Avatar of Remi
    Remi

    “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. ”

    Thaaaaaank you. If it really is that important to you that everyone eat healthier, lobby for cheaper and more available fruits and veggies and whole grains (I know I know, wheat = bad) and whatnot, lobby for their availability in schools. I hate when people see a problem and assume its 100% personal responsibility and ignore the greater forces at work as well.

  5. Avatar of Sara Habein
    Sara Habein

    “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.”

    Haaa! Yeah some of the Pinterest food people (and cleaning people. and craft people…) are scary.

  6. Avatar of twiddle
    twiddle

    I read another feminist take on Pollan’s book a few days ago and nearly lost it (I hadn’t heard anything about it until then…). This kind of thing makes me glad that I have the time, environment, and capacity to have a small garden; that I have a (male) partner who will wholly and happily take on garden/cooking/cleaning/household responsibilities (thus never obligating me to “Angel of the Household” status – and damn can he cook); and that he actually saw the feminist review of Pollan’s book mentioned above first and was outraged while describing the salient bits to me.

  7. Avatar of Opifex
    Opifex

    Actually I think there is another racial element to this as well. The reason many nice white ladies could do all the food and keep the house and be social? Servants. And you really do not have to go that far back in the way back machine to get to the point where this was true. My father remembers his Grandmother’s housekeeper fondly from when he was a kid. So there used to be someone doing this stuff as a full time job and someone who reaped the benefits. And there was a racial divide.

    And then there is the rampant abuse of workers in the food industry, which also largely effects PoC. But somehow that never comes up in food ethics… If I’m going for more show your homework food it’s because I want to look into the lives of the humans who got it to me, which is more of a feminist issue than GMOs or preservatives.

    1. Avatar of twiddle
      twiddle

      Oh man, my mom told me only a couple years ago about how her grandmother had a button on the floor underneath the dining room table that she stepped on that rang a bell for the server/maid. Apparently Mom sat under the table when she was little and played with said button.

      I was more than a little shocked. But yeah, apparently great-grandma did not do any kind of cooking herself.

      1. Avatar of Opifex
        Opifex

        My great grandmother’s housekeeped didn’t cook to the best of my knowledge, but she was the one who did the cleaning. My dad had kind of a messed up childhood and she was one of the few people he remembers who looked out for him, so he tends to see the whole situation with rose tinted glasses. He chiefly remembers that she was kind.

  8. Avatar of Mickey
    Mickey

    Amen.

    I enjoyed “The Ominvore’s Dilemma”, but I couldn’t even make it halfway through “In Defense of Food”. Everything I’ve read about “Cooked” makes me want to throw things, so I think I’ll be avoiding that.

    Also, why would I want to eat/drink unpasteurized dairy? Seems like a recipe for food poisoning to me. I think food processing, which humans have been doing at least since agriculture began, is pretty damned important in terms of improving shelf life of food and, you know, not killing people.

    1. Avatar of QoB
      QoB

      I do not understand this ‘raw milk’ thing, really I don’t. I haven’t seen any reasonable defence of it that would induce me to take the risk of foodborne illness and kidney failure.
      Unreasonable defences, however, abound, but they usually boil down to natural=good,technology=bad, and/or endorsed by people who think homeopathy is medical care.

      1. Avatar of [E] Hillary
        [E] Hillary

        My dad’s defense of it is that we drank it all the time when I was a kid; for a few years my parents raised dairy calves and he also milked cows on a couple different farms and we never got sick, ergo it’s safe. Nope, we were just lucky! My husband is convinced it’s just another big agribusiness ploy to undermine small farmers (though I don’t think he’s ever tried it). They’re both lucky I don’t beat them over the heads with blunt objects.

        1. Avatar of Sara Habein
          Sara Habein

          I’ve tried it, back in the delightful days I could have whatever dairy I wanted, and it was guh-ross. And milk shouldn’t be… yellow.

        2. Avatar of QoB
          QoB

          I’ve tried it but I didn’t think the difference in taste was anything major enough to risk my kidneys for.

      2. Avatar of Corbin
        Corbin

        Honestly. I have no problem with raw milk. I try to get homogenized milk and lightly pasteurized milk when ever possible, I just honestly can’t afford to get Snowville every week. If folks want raw milk and sing it’s praises then sure. Drinking raw milk won’t kill you and if you know who you’re buying from and the cows then I have no problem. I don’t friggin judge people or shame them for their food choices. If it makes them feel good and doesn’t make them sick or hurt their families. Then why am I shaking my finger at them.

        What I don’t like is the idea that Americans are too stupid to make their own food choices so FDA makes them for them and assumes that raw milk is suddenly a biohazard and starts raiding farms and markets and taking products away. I am sorry. That’s not cool. I get that some people might be iffy with wild foods or raw foods. But I think the public is self-aware to do research and make their own judgement calls on what to buy and eat. FDA is rather sleezy in itself soooooo.

        Anyway I get this is a minority opinion so I’ll go back into my cabin and take a shower and get a haircut.

        1. Avatar of QoB
          QoB

          “Drinking raw milk won’t kill you….If it makes them feel good and doesn’t make them sick or hurt their families.”

          Raw milk can and does do all those things. Unpasteurised (raw) milk can carry salmonella, E.Coli, listeria, campylobacter and other bacteria, and people infected with these can get sick, and die, because of it.

          I’m not saying it’s common and I’m not saying raw milk shouldn’t be sold, necessarily, but I do think that farmers who sell it have a duty to tell their customers about the risks.

          1. Avatar of Corbin
            Corbin

            you don’t think the public isn’t aware of the risks? I am sure farmers warn them, but honestly the packaged food in the supermarkets have just as many risks as some raw products. you never see distributers warn me that bag of spinach might have Listeria or ecoli or feces. the idea that there is safe food, is kind of a lie. no food is really ‘safe’.

            1. Avatar of QoB
              QoB

              I’d love to see some survey data, but I would guess that many people who consume unpasteurised milk aren’t aware of all the risks (certainly the people I know who have bought it didn’t realise food poisoning was a risk and that food poisoning could be fatal).

              And you’re right, some foods aren’t fully labelled, but in terms of dairy products consuming unpasteurised ones is demonstrably less safe than pasteurised:

              “Between 1993 and 2006, 60% (73/121) of dairy-related outbreaks reported to CDC were linked to raw milk products… Experts also found that those sickened in raw milk outbreaks were 13 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who got ill from pasteurized milk during an outbreak.”
              http://www.cdc.gov/Features/RawMilk/

              The people who sell it should (a) be aware of that and (b) say so.

              1. Avatar of Corbin
                Corbin

                To be honest, I rather have data from a non biased source but I am not going to argue. I will concede to your point to some degree, but I want know the stats of where the raw milk came from who made it and how it was handled. I think people know that raw milk can be dangerous, but I think they don’t realize that you need to consume it quickly that as soon as you buy it it needs to be on ice and you can ever leave it out like you can with pasteurized milk. I know that the unhomogenized stuff I drink goes bad fast and I drink it as soon as I can.

                You can’t treat raw milk like you can with regular stuff. It has to be consumed as quick as possible, because it can be contaminated so damn easily.

                So I agree with some points you’re making and I disagree with others. But I think I can say we’re both kind in agreement in general. I personally don’t like shaming people’s food choices.

                Except for vegan cat food. That shit is evil.

        2. Avatar of Sara Habein
          Sara Habein

          You’re right. And maybe I was being harsh, and if I was, I’m sorry. I think where my annoyance mainly comes from is the people who get evangelical about raw milk and how it will cure everything wrong with me. That’s when I want to get all STEP OFF.

          1. Avatar of Corbin
            Corbin

            I don’t think raw milk is a cure all and there are health risks to it if you don’t know where the milk is from. Being mindful of where your food comes from is hightly important imo.

            but you have every right to be annoyed.

    2. Avatar of Sara Habein
      Sara Habein

      I don’t know how many times I’ve had raw milk people tell me it would “cure” my lactose intolerance. Um, no. Pasturizing milk does not ADD lactose, thank you. Kindly fuck off.

      1. Avatar of Remi
        Remi

        Can I pick your brain on a related topic? Being lactose-intolerant myself, is there any other type of milk I could drink besides lactose-free cow milk or almond or soy milk that would taste good and not give me cramp-inducing gas?

        1. Avatar of twiddle
          twiddle

          I’ve been told sheep and/or goat milk has much less lactose and is okay for lactose’d people (myself being one, too). But I’ve never had it, nor is it one of those things that I imagine most people can easily find. I have found things like goat cheese or sheeps milk yogurt at the natural foods store, and both of those are pretty tasty. So I stick with rice or almond milk, goat cheese, and sheep yogurt.

        2. Avatar of Sara Habein
          Sara Habein

          I usually go with skim lactose-free cow milk or sometimes chocolate or vanilla almond milk. Soy milk when I order a latte, but too much soy milk makes me feel a little urpy, so I imagine that my stomach has a touch of trouble digesting too much of that too.

          Have you tried the lactose-free cow milk WITH a lactaid pill? Does lactaid (the generic kind is just called “lactase supplements”) work for you? Some people with lactose intolerance, it doesn’t do much for them. It doesn’t help me at all with real ice cream or anything with heavy cream in it.

          You might also try (if you’re not already) taking a probiotic or a digestive-aiding supplement of some sort. I take this stuff once or twice a day: http://www.drugstore.com/garden-of-life-omega-zyme-digestive-enzyme-veggie-caps/qxp405381?catid=183266

          and it helps.

          1. Avatar of Remi
            Remi

            I put Lacteez (I think that’s what its called) drops in my pasteurized cow milk at home and it typically works great if I wait out the entire 24 hours lol. It does seem like I’ll have to invest in pills though if I wanna have a gas-free ice cream adventure though. I think I’ve only ever laid eyes on lactose-free ice cream once (Dryer’s? Bryer’s?) and have yet to lay eyes on one since.

            1. Avatar of Sara Habein
              Sara Habein

              Breyer’s makes a lactose-free vanilla. I usually end up spending the big $$ for coconut milk ice cream, but it’s super super good.

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