Women in Aprons

There’s a food revolution going on. You may have noticed.

Books about eating organic food abound the shelves of your local bookstore. Writers of those books appear on countless talk-shows. High-fructose corn syrup has become a term synonymous with devil.

And I am one of those foodies. Sort of. While I ate only grilled cheese sandwiches for the second five years of my life (and still grew), I now like things like brussels sprouts, green beans, and veggie burgers. While at age ten, you’d find me sitting at the table, pouting at my pork chop even after the dishes were cleared, you’ll now find me savoring my squash risotto with a glass of riesling.

I started to eat a wider variety of foods when I got married. My husband worked in restaurants and picked up some tricks, so when he roasted vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper, I ate them. He inspired me to try fish, which was surprisingly good. We visited new eateries, and I got more and more adventurous: snapper and squid and collard greens. There’s not much I won’t try now, as long as I trust the cook. However, I don’t cook.

Yet everywhere, I’m getting the message that I should. And it’s pissing me off.

While I love well-prepared food–especially paired with wine–I’m also fully willing to eat pre-made food, frozen food, quick eats. In House deJana, we’re not having cheesesteaks every night, but we are eating frozen spinach pizza, veggie burgers, spaghetti and store-bought meatballs. And I’m fine with that. I have two kids under four. Life is messy and frenetic. There’s not always time for fancy cooking.

Packaged and frozen meals have become popular for a reason, and that reason is our busy lives. While I respect the endeavors of foodies like Michael Pollan, who lament the sorry state of the food on our dinner tables, I also see their revolution as possibly adding to the anxiety of the modern working woman, especially the working mom. A side-effect of this pressure to prepare a more wholesome, organic meal is that she feels, yet again, like she is not succeeding at doing it all.

Take Oprah this past Tuesday, for example. The episode could have come straight out of 19-freakin’-54.

Jessica Seinfeld, seventeen years younger than her very famous husband who made his career off of that last name which she so quickly took as her own, has started to make her own career out of writing cookbooks, while that famous husband smiles on from backgrounds and audiences of the television shows on which she appears. (He’s so proud.) Her new book is about making simple, delicious food for complicated lives. Great! Who can’t get behind that? Except that the implication throughout this episode of network TV was that many women were failing at the easy job of chopping up parsley and mozzarella. One woman on the show always bought prepared food and ordered take-out. Another burned her kitchen hand-towel as soon as she turned on the oven. Can you believe it? Women who can’t make a wholesome, nutritious meal for their families from scratch? Jessica–who no doubt has an abundance of help like nannies, babysitters, and the money to pay for them–then takes her movement to the supermarket aisles, finding women (yet again) who may need advice shopping for those wholesome ingredients.

The topper on the green-bean casserole, though, was her in-home visit to an obviously rich family in Manhattan. A husband sent in a video to Oprah, claiming that his wife was “the worst cook in America.” In fact, he had to put Tabasco on everything because her food had no flavor. Look at this meal, he said as he took off the plastic wrap. The chicken is burnt, sort of. The rice is one of those ten-minute jobs. The asparagus is limp, like a noodle. (You should be thinking more about noodles, Buster, since if you insulted my cooking on national television, there would be no stiff asparagus for months. Months.)

But the gorgeous, skinny wife and mom is ELATED, to see Jessica Seinfeld at her door. When she hears she’s going to Chicago to learn to cook a better meal for her family, she jumps for joy and hugs her husband. And when she appears on the show with two plates of pepper steak, rice pilaf and crisp asparagus–one for her son, the other for that jerk of a man–she is in a black sequined apron and heels, simply delighted to have fulfilled the picture of happy, sexy domesticity.

But no one even mentions what, to me, was obvious. Why can’t this asshole make his own grilled chicken? Is he just too handsome? What the bloody hell, man?

So I’m fine with a food revolution. I’d love some simple, tasty ideas for nightly meals that don’t make me break a sweat or gain five pounds. But if the food revolution is going to take hold, we need to make sure it is a joint venture. Men and women roasting garlic and chopping onions. Men wearing the aprons as much as women. Because adding one more item to women’s plates isn’t going to get us anywhere in the struggle for an equitable society. Our lives are busy and complicated enough. It’s best if men and women can tackle this new endeavor together, even when the chicken is burned. And let’s not display those blunders on national television, m-kay?

What’s that smell in the kitchen?

All over America women are burning dinners.
It’s lambchops in Peoria: it’s haddock
in Providence; it’s steak in Chicago:
tofu delight in Big Sur; red rice and beans in Dallas.
All over America women are burning food they’re supposed to bring with calico smile on
platters glittering like wax.
Anger sputters in her brainpan, confined but spewing out missiles of hot fat.
Carbonized despair presses like a clinker
from a barbecue against the back of her eyes.
If she wants to grill anything, it’s
her husband spitted over a slow fire.
If she wants to serve him anything it’s a dead rat with a bomb in its belly ticking like the
heart of an insomniac.
Her life is cooked and digested,
nothing but leftovers in Tupperware.
Look, she says, once I was roast duck
on your platter with parsley but now I am Spam.
Burning dinner is not incompetence but war.

Poem by Marge Piercy, care of margepiercy.com.

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