1899. By Photoprint copyrighted by Donald Roberts, Detroit, Mich. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Good advice from the memoir Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende is if you do nothing (like hiking alone in the woods singing at the top of your lungs), at least do it gallantly. I might modify the concept and say that even if what you do is deemed “nothing,” remember that your performance and belief in what you do is what counts. It pays off in the end with peace of mind and perhaps even with persistence and dedication as it changes the world.
And so it is with cooking and the changing role of women “in the kitchen.” With outrage expressed over a recent Time Magazine cover article, entitled “The Gods of Food,” which featured only male chefs, the women chefs in some parts of the country are taking back the night. And, it is an interesting journey.
Those of us who are of a certain age remember well the transformation over the years into what was labeled women’s liberation. First of all, we all have memories and inspiring and gallant tales of the lessons of cooking and gardening at the knee of grandma and the almost palpable taste of her biscuits or apple pies long afterward. Going a step further, those same women often went about the “putting up” of food for use over the winter. I remember heading immediately upon arrival at my grandmother’s house in Appalachia Kentucky to the cellar to fetch a jar of her homemade grape juice. Old dog eared photos often display these stalwart “chefs” in their Sunday best aprons.
A generation later, June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver stood in her shirtwaist dress and perfectly coiffed hair, breaking not a sweat as she diligently prepared the family meals and the men went around the “real work” of earning a living. Likewise, women such as Lucy and Ethel in the famed sitcom I Love Lucy were portrayed as bumpkin cooks – “can’t a husband get a decent meal around here” might have been the refrain of husbands Ricky and Fred. Peggy, the unhappy wife in “Married With Children,” carried the schtick into the modern era – refusing to cook at all.
Women entering the workforce took us on a turn away from the kitchen. In 1970, 43 percent of women 16 and older were in the workforce. By the late 1990s, the labor force participation rate by women had risen to 60 percent. Alongside that movement, women expressed delight at being liberated from the traditional bounds of womanhood including the drudgery of cooking. Fast food joints sprung up, pre-cooked meals and the ubiquitous delivered pizza took over our taste buds.
Fast forward to today. Just ask Shannon Collins, Day Chef at Azur Restaurant & Patio, as she organizes a woman chef event in protest to the audacity of an article that would leave out the rise of the female chef (unfortunately still only 20 percent of the management level chef population). Celebrating the rise of women head chefs, she harkens back to Julia Child, Alice Waters, others, and six of her Central Kentucky colleagues as they prepare courses for 50 diners. She says to bring it on as she plans additional events to celebrate the rise of her ilk.
Add this to the growing sense that cooking and eating are important endeavors – no longer deemed “nothing” but a force that can indeed save the world. The rise of women chefs gives us yet another reason to rejoice at the arrival of the local food movement and the growth of its tentacles into our lives.
To read more about Sylvia Lovely see her column Dear Foodie at www.dearfoodie.com and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sylvia Lovely (front, third from left) and Shannon Collins (second from left) at the Women’s Chef Dinner in March