Mother and writer Virginia Heffernan recently dared to ask the question What If You just Hate Making Dinner? Nostalgic for pizza delivery and frozen dinners, Heffernan finds “mother cookbooks” like 100 Days of Real Food, The Family Cooks, and Dinner: A Love Story (at best) discouraging and (at worst) condescending. She’s blunt about what she calls “my bold association of foodism with rank misogyny.”
A mother who hates making dinner? Food writer Michael Ruhlman was practically apoplectic — calling Heffernan “shrill,” “sad” and “self-unaware.” He seemed unable to comprehend the problem. Is this woman – gasp – single? Doesn’t she work from home? What’s her excuse? According to Ruhlman, children of single mothers and hapless home chefs face a similarly dim future: “If you don’t [cook at least one meal a week], will the kids turn to a life of crime? Not any more than they’ll be affected by a father who’s never around. It happens. Life is hard.”
Much like food advocate Michael Pollan, Ruhlman fails to grasp (or refuses to consider) what it’s like to be a working mother. But he will offer you his chicken schnitzel recipe, “photographed by the woman of the household, at my request—I hope not a sexist one.” Silly women. Complaining about dinners! What’s next — complaints about consensual photography?
Jenny Rosenstrach, author of Dinner: A Love Story (the blog and cookbook of the same name), is filled with Heffernan-fury that’s best saved for her private burn book. But she did insist that her blog readers keep her on task: “if my tone here ever makes anyone feel anxious or guilty or less-than, if I ever sound condescending, then I’m failing in what I’m trying to accomplish, and you guys need to let me know about it.” I’m sure devoted food blog readers will be lining up to confess their inadequacies in short order.
I myself quite like cooking, actually, but if I think about it as one event in the vast Olympics of perfect parenting, I see Heffernan’s point. Have you mastered canning? Do you sew your own clothes? Have you learned to shlep your entire family and a week’s worth of groceries on a bicycle? You might find some of these pursuits rewarding, but taken as a whole it’s all you can do not to suffocate under the weight of so very many perfectly constructed Pinterest boards.
Food is different, too, because not much else inspires this level of obsession. Nothing sends a mom into a blind rage quicker than some undocumented high fructose corn syrup. Ruhlman might ponder what kind of future awaits children raised without regular home-cooked meals, but what about the anxiety we instill when we scrutinize our diets to such an extreme degree?
Women may be the driving force in this renaissance of domesticity — huge numbers of women are food bloggers, small food business owners or folks who just plain like to cook — but it’s also women who feel the burden. Food writers like Ruhlman or Rosenstrach who counter that men can do their part too are missing Heffernan’s point. The father who hates cooking dinner won’t be called “shrill” or have his parental fitness questioned if he confesses that sometimes he hates cooking dinner.