Wednesday, March 30, 2022

I Cook Because I Eat: Why Can’t Heroines Cook?

 Olivia Benson of Law & Order SVU prepares 

Salade Nicoise for herself and her son. He won't like the olives.  

I don’t understand why liberated heroines can’t cook. We need to eat, therefore, we need to cook. Eating fast food is not the answer. The more time you and your family spend in the kitchen cooking real food, the less time you and your family will spend at the doctor’s office and the hospital.

I'm a 50 year macro, wife and mother who cooks from scratch at least three times a day and has over 80 articles and 7 books to her name, plus I ran my own PR business for 10 years. (I started late in life.) I make it work. Why can't strong women heroines face up to the challenge of feeding themselves and their families?

I’m tired of that old feminist chestnut of “Oh! I can’t cook!” I get it, Simone de Beauvoir! It can be perceived as “endless drudgery and domestic slavery.” Wake up! Every person who told me that they couldn’t cook is - guess what? Dead! One woman, a minister, told me she wouldn’t even butter bread because it was too much like cooking. What do you think happened to her? She dropped dead in her driveway on her way to teach an aerobics class to heart patients.

Wake up! Every person who told me that they "couldn’t cook" is - guess what? Dead! 

Often, I’ll be watching - or trying to watch - a TV show about a female detective when suddenly her kid asks for breakfast or dinner and there’s no food in the house. “What?” she calls from gruesome files of dead victims, “What?” “There’s no food!” the child repeats. “I’ll go shopping after work.” Somehow, we know that’s not going to happen. I lose interest in the show.

Another one asks her son if his girlfriend’s fake breasts can make coffee. I’m thinking, are you seriously telling me you can’t make a cup of coffee for yourself - by yourself? You can solve crimes but you can’t boil water? Again, not going to watch it.

I tried to find one. I Googled TV detectives that cook. Lots of TV detectives. None cooking. I did get The Gourmet Detective. My heart skipped a beat. But, no, she’s the detective, he’s the professional gourmet come to lend a hand in the investigation.

Eliminating those fictional heroines who actually are chefs like Jane Adler (played by Meryl Streep) in It’s Complicated and Kate (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) in No Reservations, I found two who cook - one, Erica Barry, playwright, (played by Diane Keaton) in, aptly named, Something’s Gotta Give. She’s not intimidated by the kitchen. She can whip up breakfast, dinner, snacks, picnics at will or romantic midnight scrambled eggs for two when the electricity goes out. The other is Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hartigay) of Law & Order Special Victims Unit. Olivia does not consider herself to be a very proficient cook, but she takes time out of her busy crime-solving, victim-soothing job, to bravely go where most TV detectives don’t dare to go, into the kitchen to make dinner when she and her son, Noah are hungry! Wow, what a concept!

I have found a few in real life.

Thinking back over literary history, I realized Emily Dickinson was the family baker. Her father insisted on only eating her bread because he liked it better than any other. Emily loved baking. She made cakes, cookies, candies and puddings. She often made treats for the local children, and because she was so reclusive, she would lower a basket full of cakes from her window to the children. Emily became quite famous in town for her baked goods. It was only after she died that her sister, Lavinia, found almost 2,000 poems that Emily had written, some of them started on the backs of recipes or random kitchen wrapping papers. Emily once said, “People must have puddings” and “Love’s oven is warm.”

Emily Dickinson

“I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, salaratus, etc., with a great deal of grace. I advise you if you don’t know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.” 

                                                                    – Emily Dickinson to Abiah Root, September 25, 1845 (L8)

Emily Brontë
writer, poet, baker

Also, the Brontës - Charlotte was challenged by the kitchen, but Emily was something of a kitchen goddess, it seems. The village prized her bread over that of any other baker. She also cooked mutton as a common staple, turnips, potatoes and apple pudding. Oh, and she gave us the incomparable Wuthering Heights among other works, including lots of poetry. 

Jane Austen knew food.

Jane Austen’s household was humble and crowded with sisters, cousins, nephews, neighbors and friends. Many hands pitched in and Jane displays an intimate knowledge of many dishes in her work, often ascribing certain dishes to certain characters to make a point: “a pyramid of fruit which confronted Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley…Or of the cold beef eaten by Willoughby on his journey of repentance to see Marianne.” (Maggie Lane

Okay, so I found some heroines that cooked and somehow managed at the same time to be superhuman in their work. If artists in real life can feed themselves and their families, why can’t fictional ones?

We all need to cook! Our health and the health of our families and our future as human beings depends on our ability to feed ourselves and keep ourselves well.

Even if you hate to cook, you still need to find a way to make meals successfully. I find that planning meals around brown rice really works for me - brown rice and broiled salmon with broccoli; brown rice and pinto beans with guacamole, tortillas and salad; brown rice and broiled chicken with potatoes and green beans, you get the idea. It’s quick, simple, tasty and nutritious.

Give me heroines who can feed themselves and their families good quality food! Do we have to go all the way back to Nancy Drew? She not only stopped the investigation for meals - she did the dishes too! And, might I add, still got her perp!

P.S. Laura of Garden Answer is a busy, professional gardener, mother and wife who stops work to cook meals for herself and her family; she tries to make a new recipe every week. 

Laura and her son making chicken curry with ingredients from her garden.

Here’s a list of busy professionals who love to cook - stars who cook!

 Also Gwyneth Paltrow and Emily Blunt (stars love her roasted potatoes!)

©Patricia Goodwin, 2022

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.

***Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant to substitute for medical care. Please consult your physician before beginning any new dietary guidelines. 

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