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GENDER AND FOOD

MALE COOKS IN THE MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY

Insights into the gender-based division of labor in American culture are beautifully illustrated by cook- books that were written by men for other men in the first half of the twentieth century. Among other things, they illustrate that, just like women, men had to deal with the consequences of being fettered by other peo- ple’s notions of what was a permissible interest or oc- cupation. Men were expected to do important, well-paying work, and if they happened to be inter- ested in cooking, they were expected to be executive chefs. Men who wrote cookbooks could write without embarrassment about the pursuit and preparation of wild game, perhaps, or the perils of outdoor barbecu- ing, but everyday home cooking was understood to be women’s work.

Nevertheless, men interested in writing recipes for home cooks managed to do so without losing their self- respect, but in order to pull it off they had to set them- selves apart from women. Authors had to prove that male cooks were more creative and inspired than women, who were understood to be more concerned with the mun- dane task of getting three meals a day on the table. Male cooks had to convince themselves and others that, un- like women, their approach to food was spirited and ad- venturous, not weighted down by frets over level measurements or undue concerns about nutrition. The concern of the male cook, of course, was to appear mas- culine enough not to be mistaken for a sissy or the least bit effeminate; he would prove his legitimacy by estab- lishing his superiority over women.

Certain American foods have been linked either to men or to women, creating stereotypes that designate light, sweet foods such as jams, jellies, and cupcakes as female, while male food is heavy and spicy, with the only acceptable vegetable being potatoes. Male gourmets were happy to see the prohibition of alcohol lifted in 1933 so that they could occupy them- selves with matching good food to good wines. Seeking like-minded companions, they formed societies to share their interest in fine food. J. George Frederick, founder and first president of the New York Gourmet Society, es- tablished his leadership by creating “A Gourmet’s Code of Modern Dining,” published in his book, Cooking as

Men Like It (1939).

Frederick has clear ideas about differences between men and women in their approaches to food. While he credits women with having made some striking advances in their cooking, he finds them too occupied with clean- liness, purity, and nutrition, rather than what is “savory and tasteful” or “varied and succulent,” the priorities of men. While old ways of thinking tend to persist, new styles of eating would suggest that at the start of the twenty- first century, men who like to cook and bake can do so without feeling their manhood challenged, and women who have no interest in domesticity will perhaps no longer be considered unnatural.

See also Cookbooks; Division of Labor; Time; United States: African American Foodways.

Barbara Haber

rence, people decry thinness as evidence of social neglect and celebrate women’s plumpness as a reflection of well- being and fertility.

Gender and Food Distribution

In food exchanges, men and women create meaningful relationships and demonstrate wealth and power. In many agricultural and hunting-gathering societies, men give away food to acquire and demonstrate political leader- ship. In Wamira, Papua New Guinea, men gain allies and shame enemies through massive food feasts. Women in many cultures exercise influence over family members by giving or withholding food, and they contribute to es- tablishing hierarchy in the family by allocation of delica- cies. When serving the soup, Ecuadorian Indian peasant women show favor by distribution of the prized chunks of meat, and they express ire at husbands by failing to prepare dinner, a grave insult and social transgression

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

(Weismantel, 1988). In many cultures, women and men initiate relationships by eating together—whether as a date among Western college students or as a marriage proclamation by sharing yams among the Trobriand Is- landers. Feasts celebrate community and gender cooper- ation across all cultures. For example, in Tresnuraghes, Sardinia, for the feast of Saint Mark, shepherds donate sheep, which their wives cook and distribute—solidifying community, demonstrating wealth, and sharing food widely.

In many cultures, gender hierarchy is expressed through access to food. Often women have less access to food than men, a practice supported by their economic dependence, by beliefs that they need less, and by preg- nancy food taboos. The Mbum Kpau, for example, pro- hibit women from eating chicken or goat lest they die in childbirth or suffer sterility, a major tragedy because of the importance of childbearing to these women. While

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