Activist Mommy

{July 2, 2007}   Is eating healthy anti-feminist?

Woman cookingI was lead to this intersting blog post called The Feminist in My Kitchen. For the most part it is a great post about how choosing to eat local food can be harder for mothers who work long hours outside the home. I admit that while I was still employed, even though I worked where my then only child could be right beside me, all I wanted to do after work was swing through the earest take-out and throw that down on the table to eat. And yes, more times than I’d like to admit we did just that. I would try to make healthy choices, but there is only so far you can go when dealing with fast food. I am certainly lucky now in that I have most of the day to decide, prepare, and cook a meal. I also have a partner who is pretty good in the kitchen himself, even more so on the grill. But there is a part of this post that just bugs me.

If eating local is still a challenge for me, what about women who, voluntarily or not, log 8 to 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, in an office or hospital or courtroom? What about women who, in addition to working long hours and commuting back and forth, also have children at home who need love and affection and help with homework? What about women who, in addition to work and kids and a significant other, also think it might be nice to hit the gym two or three times a week? Or have a social life? Or read a book or take a judo class or become a better photographer?
How do those women get it all done?

How does the laundry get washed and folded? How do books get read and dental appointments made? How on earth do these same women have time to plan balanced meals, let alone meals composed of organic, in-season ingredients… grown locally?

I wonder. I wonder if the slow-organic-local food movement is truly sustainable for and friendly to the larger community of women.

Why is the default setting that women do all of this? Why aren’t we talking about partners, husbands and wives, equally taking responsibility? If she is working 8 hours a day then comes home and has to plan the meals, do the shopping, wash and fold the laundry, make the apointments, and so on and so on what is the other person doing? I realise that for many single mothers who have no help they are doing this all on their own, and they certainly get my respect for it all. But the majority of this post, and call me on it if I’m wrong here, is dealing with women who have partners. So what are they doing?

Can we call ourselves feminists (simply defined here as people who desire the equality of all women, everywhere) and still suggest that an ideal dinner consists of handmade ravioli and slow-simmered marinara from vine-ripened, hand-picked tomatoes and a salad composed of vegetables that (let’s be honest) are Not Available at Safeway?

I say yes, most certainly. I have to wonder if I can call myself a feminist and still run around the kitchen in a pink apron whipping up dinner while my partner sits on the couch watching the ball game and belching for another beer. Because let me tell you, that wouldn’t happen in this household. We are equal, and that means inside the family as well. Some nights i’m in the kitchn by myself whipping up a healthy homemade meal. While my partner is caring for the kids, or folding the laundry, or cleaning the table. Some night he’s in the kitchen while I am taking care of the other household chores. Most of the time he does the grocery shopping because he is better at find deals and I have no patience for crowds. I make the appointments because he is on the phone often at work and doesn’t want to touch it when he’s home. We are equals, we take equal responsibility, we have an equal share in the home and our family.

Do I expect most nights will be a healthy, homemade meal on the table? Yes. With local and organic foods, no less. That is something that we have decided is important to us. Does my vagina automatically mean I’ll be the one doing it all? Oh hell no.

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taureandevi says:

I have to completely agree with you on this. There are responsibilities and duties in life that men and women cannot escape from however if there is equality between partners those duties can be met more completely with a fulfilling sense of pride.

Be well and enjoy the day.

Sally says:

We are actually in the middle of a feminism discussion/rant/arguement at work … a gay male who wears make up is going on about femisnism and how hard it is being female. Gay or not, I say there is no way a man can ever understand being leered at, catcalled, and paid less.

dew says:

This article really caught my eye because my family pays a lot of attention to our food, where it comes from, how good it is for us and the earth, how good it is for local farmer, if it’s organic, etc. There’s a lot of thought put into food in this household. And how odd an idea that is, that it’s the woman’s responsibility somehow! In my household, my husband does the shopping, puts together his and my breakfast, makes his lunch, waters the veggie garden, and washes the dishes. I make my lunch and my son’s lunch, cook most dinners, and do most of the gardening. Our son gets his own breakfast. Sometimes my husband makes dinner, sometimes our son helps either of us, and I usually do the dishes on the weekend. I can’t even imagine a lifestyle that would require me to do all this work on my own.

maggie says:

I think the key word here is partner, when you are fortunate enough to have one that person should pick up half of the daily jobs. Also, it is equally important to get the rest of the family involved from the start. The children can be taught at a very early age to clean up their own possessions and do some small jobs around the house. Keep everyone on track, give all a job that they either like or can tolerate, and play up on the strengths. My partner does a fantastic job of keeping all of the floors clean and I am a wiz at organizing our stuff so we both do what we are good at…now the bathroom cleaning is absolutely a “rock,paper,scissors” issue.

Hilary says:

Great post.

I think it is unfair to list a bunch of priorities, and then rank the slow food / organic movement as somehow being unworthy of a mom’s attention or even anti-mom or anti-feminist while the other priorities are somehow not. How is working out or having a social life worth the time expense and not eating healthy? Why can’t we all choose which of the priorities we spend time on, and choose not to do the other ones? Why is the slow food / organic movement anti-mom or anti-feminist SOLELY because it takes a woman’s time if she chooses to focus on it, when the exercise movement is not?

It would be easy for me, who chooses organic and local products and cooks from scratch a lot, to target other people’s priorities, such as working out in a gym. Although healthy, it does not benefit anyone else in your family unless you count leading by example (and wouldn’t a physical activity that the kids could take part in be a better example for the family?) Is something only feminist if it is selfish? I would not, in reality, make this argument targeting people who work out because I know I am just jealous and biased because I feel like I don’t “have the time” to do it, but in reality, I choose other priorities. Most of which were on her list, including choosing good produce and cooking it with and for my family.

We only have so much time in a day, that is true. So why waste that time targeting important priorities that people who have a lot in common with the blogger (other feminists, for example) and something that has a lot of positive qualities? Aren’t there more obvious anti-mom and anti-feminist causes out there that don’t have anything to do with trashing other individual mom’s priorities?

LRapps says:

Thank you for this post, I absolutely have to link it to my blog. I think you’re 1000% correct. My partner and I are getting more serious with each day and the other day we talked about what it would be like if we moved in together. He said he hates cleaning and he knows it’s important to me to be clean so he’s worried. I said, you hate doing laundry right? Yes. You don’t mind taking out the garbage? No. You hate mopping? Yes. You don’t mind emptying the dishwasher but hate loading it? Right. Well then, I think we’ve figured out what roles we will each take. An anti-feminist might not have that conversation. And anti-feminist would be ok with a man sitting on the couch while she broke a sweat doing EVERYTHING. But, local food in and of itself is NOT anit-feminist unless you let it be! Right on activist mommy, great topic!

[…] the foods you eat are organic and locally grown can be a bit more work. And to some it’s even anti-feminist.  But feeling a little more safe about the products my children are eating is worth it to me. And […]

human says:

I’ve heard this criticism elsewhere, and – the point is not to criticize households where work is shared more equally, or to say they don’t exist, or shouldn’t exist. I mean, obviously not.

But it’s still a default cultural expectation that the woman does the cooking and childcare. If it doesn’t happen in YOUR house, that’s really awesome. But I just got back from vacation where I watched my aunt heat up a meal for her son and then watched him yell at her because he didn’t like it. Part of the reason I’m not married is that every single married friend I have – women in their twenties and thirties, young enough to have supposedly benefited from feminism – is expected to do more of the grunt work around the house than their husband does. If they try to get him to do more, he throws a whiny passive-aggressive fit. So they just do it, because the kids are hungry and the floor is dirty and…

So yeah. It’s a completely legitimate thing to point out – that, unless you ALREADY have SIGNIFICANT success in subverting the cultural norm that mommy feeds daddy and the kids, then a movement that requires you take more time shopping, cooking, etc. is going to cause problems for women. And that’s of course going to be a concern for feminists.

There’s also a class issue here, because in families where the adults have to work 2 and 3 jobs to stay afloat, no matter how equally responsibility is shared, ain’t nobody going to have time to keep a garden, go to the farmer’s market, etc.

So in short: personal virtue is great, but structural changes are far more important if you want mass participation and lasting results.

activistmommy says:

Human: I agree that it is sadly the expectation of the wife to do more than her share. But in modern America where women have more freedom I have to question how hard it is to tell the Mr. to sleep in the garage until he’s willing to do his share. Or to not marry the guy in the first place. Yes, I know this is a bit over simplified. And not everyone is willing or able to do so. But in your aunt’s example what is to stop her from telling him to get his ass in the kitchen and cook his own meals and refuse to serve him anymore.

Of course familes who are not equal have bigger fish to fry than what is being served. But I still take offense to the assumption made that the entire movement is anti-feminist. It’s about healthy eating.

And to the class issue, I don’t buy that. We are lower class. According to the rates we fall pretty far below the poverty line in terms of income. I don’t know how it is everywhere, but here are a couple examples from around me. We live in a poor neighborhood with similar families. We made the choice to eat healthy and for me to stay home with the kids. My neighbors across the street both work, are on government aid for food, and drive brand new cars each. Next door is a young woman working two jobs, living with her parents and her two kids, and just yesterday was telling me about the big screen TV they just bought. Down the road a friend of mine can’t afford to buy organic yet takes payday loans every month to afford her hair and nails habit. We have 1 car, 10 years old, fully paid for. No big tv, or even cable, to pay for. We skip a lot of the extras to be able to afford what is important to us. I’m not saying that all the working poor make such frivilous purchases. I am saying that good money management skills can go a long way.

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