Foodie Underground: Foodie Feminism

Sewing, cooking and poring over fashion magazines count among the finer activities in my daily agenda. In fact, this weekend I made a tarte au citron. Just for the hell of it.

“You’re so domestic,” friends surmise whenever I detail my various cheffing endeavors, be they tartes or teas. Domestic is probably the last word I would use to describe myself, but when looking at my list of likes and dislikes, I suppose you could call many of them “feminine.” Woman’s work? Sign me up.

Call it reinvention or even “foodie feminism.” These days, I’m noticing many of my female counterparts are taking part in the food movement – not because it’s what they should do or because they have to put food on the table for a whole family, but simply because they happen to like it. For decades we’ve watched the professional culinary industry continue to be dominated by males, but we’re taking back the plate, at home, on the barbecue, with our friends and in foodie-inspired businesses.

This is a timely reminder that fully embracing the joy of good food doesn’t have to come with a gender stereotype. More creative minds in the kitchen, be they men or women, is good for the food movement.

Still, there’s plenty going on in the food world that manages to disempower women. To wit: Pepsi’s new “skinny” can. A “celebration of beautiful, confident women,” the taller and more slender can – the aluminum Barbie of the drink world? – debuted at New York Fashion Week and is hitting stores in March. This much is clear: a beautiful and confident woman is not celebrated because she gets a sleek looking pop can.

The words “beautiful” and “confident” aren’t synonymous with “tall” and “skinny,” although maybe Pepsi and I use a different thesaurus. And even if they were,  a beautiful and confident woman knows perfectly well that high fructose corn syrup drinks are just as detrimental as bad body image. Of course, the slim, mile-long-legs body image is at the root of the marketing plan: “Our slim, attractive new can is the perfect complement to today’s most stylish looks,” said Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer at Pepsi. Oh, Jill, tell us what you really think.

If the glamorization of the word “skinny” makes you cringe, then the food world endeavors of the last couple of years should make you feel nauseous. SkinnyGirl Margarita, for example, tells women that “Yes! You can drink your cocktails and have a skinny waist line, too!” Add to that a whole line of cookbooks directed at so called “skinny bitches” and you have an entire industry devoted to making women focus on their looks instead of what’s actually in the food. Thanks to silly products like these, we’re cranking out disempowered female consumers, playing – and paying – right into the cultural expectations and boundaries that many of us push to dismantle on a daily basis.

Barbie may have taught us that “math is hard,” but I think I can read an ingredients label. Soda equals high fructose corn syrup, and cocktails equal empty carbohydrates. However you do the math it still = bad for you. And those books that focus on cooking in the pursuit of waif status? That takes the tradition out of food and turns it into trendy, bite-size morsels of marketing.

I’m reminded of a prescient section of What French Women Know that talks about the French woman’s approach to the kitchen. The extravagant, carefully thought-out dinner party a la francaise that goes over flawlessly, goes flawlessly simply because French woman have accepted that we can’t live by rules. If something goes awry in the cooking process, they roll with it. They eat what they want, they serve what they want and they’re happier because of it. You won’t find them perusing a skinny book, not because they don’t believe in eating healthy, but because approaching food in such a twisted way takes the fun, and respect for food culture, out of it. In turn, they respect themselves.

We as women have a lot of power, and when it comes to food, we have the potential to think smartly and creatively rather than be boxed in by conventional expectations. Today’s Pepsi skinny can is yesterday’s Powerbar protein bar is last decade’s Lean Cuisine: missing the point by a mile. I’ll let the marketers do the math. Meanwhile, you can find me in the kitchen.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, taking a conscious look at what’s bubbling in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Image: leyla.a

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.