When Cooking Becomes A Career

Like most women I was raised to believe that the kitchen is primarily a woman’s domain.  My mother is an excellent cook, and to this day spends much of her time cooking elaborate meals.  The kitchen is where she is most at home. Following in her tradition, I also spend a good deal of time in my kitchen cooking for my family. I am well aware that the pride that I take watching them enjoy a meal that I have prepared for them has much to do with the genderized way in which I was raised.

As we daily sit together and share our evening meal,  I have not been blind to the ways in which this little ritual reinforces gender performativity.  The unhusband is extremely appreciative of every meal that I cook but that does not change the fact that I am fulfilling the nurturing role traditionally performed by women, and that our male children see this.  They have already professed a preference for meals made by mom. 

I know that this same scene is played out over and over again in households globally.  Cooking for the family is something that we have socially decided is woman’s work.  There are some progressive men who do spend time in a kitchen; however as with most domestic labour it is a task that largely falls to women. 

When I came across an article in The Times Of India regarding the lack of female chefs I had to pause.  According to ITC Maurya, Delhi. Food writer Rashmi Uday Singhm, women are not chefs because, “It’s a physically demanding profession and calls for long hours. One has to be mostly on one’s toes, dealing with male counterparts.”  So when a woman is at home cooking and cleaning for her family that is not to much of a burden, but suddenly when it comes to performing the same labour for money we are to fragile.  Do the pots and pans get heavier in an industrial kitchen? 

Executive chef Ananda Solomon, Taj President, Mumbai, feels that once saddled with the responsibility of children and domestic pressures, women are often discouraged from taking up the career of a chef. Some even change gears midway.

Yes, women are discouraged because patriarchy prefers that we perform the same labour for free.  This is a very key point.  Patriarchy has no issue with women cooking, they simply want it done under a condition that allows them to maintain control.  There are very few global constants but this fact is a certainty; labour is genderized differently from place to place but when a man performs it, its value is suddenly increased.  The increase is due to the gender hierarchy that is a global phenomenon. 

Men have a vested interest in the impoverishment of women because it keeps us dependent upon them for subsistence.  The feminization of poverty exists specifically to promote and support male hegemony.  The household labour of cooking, verses the commercial labour that a chef performs is a perfect example of the ways in which the patriarchal, capitalist system works to maintain  hierarchy. 

Cooking does not become more difficult because it is performed in an industrial kitchen, it becomes more difficult because men have decided to make a profit out of nurturing labour.  The next time you hear the old adage that the best cooks are men, be sure to respond that this is only true when money is involved.

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