Are healthful cooking and feminism at odds with each other?

Yesterday, I finished an  relatively new book called Unprocessed, in which journalist Megan Kimble narrates her attempt to go a year without eating processed food. But, as I wrote in this post,  “processed” is a relative term. In Kimble’s case, her rule for that year was that she wouldn’t eat anything that she could not (theoretically) make in her own kitchen, which is pretty much what I try to do most of the time. Most of the food she ate that year was organic, and a lot of it was locally grown in her home state of Arizona as well. Throughout the book, she lets you in on what she’s researched and discovered about where our food really comes from. It’s entertaining and  enlightening, and I highly recommend it.

Interestingly enough, one of the most concerning issues the book brought up for me was largely a feminist one. Kimble outlines the developments in food processing from the early 1900s to today that gradually led to a huge reduction in the amount of time all people, but overwhelmingly women, spent cooking. The conventional patriarchal family dynamic where women were known as housewives is familiar to most, I would think, even though it’s been turned on its head to a great extent at this point. Many decades ago in our culture, a woman’s role was to keep house: to cook and clean and raise the children. Yesterday’s “housewives” spent as much as four or five times the amount of time cooking as today’s women.

One big reason for this shift in amount of time spent preparing food is the advent of industrial food processing. Packaged foods and TV dinners meant women did not have to cook everything from scratch. They could whip up tasty, satisfying meals practically instantly. Top that off with washing machines and vacuum cleaners, and our friend the housewife was not necessarily tied to the house anymore.

Today, a much larger proportion of women are employed. Today, thankfully, it is a lot more acceptable for a woman to pursue a challenging and rewarding career.

Today, highly processed food is slowly but surely killing us.

As women have become more empowered in the workforce, junk food and fast food have become ubiquitous while fewer and fewer people prepare their own food from whole ingredients. I am not arguing that one is the sole cause of the other; women’s employment and food processing have undoubtedly affected each other, and there are of course many other factors that come into play.

However, I am much more certain that the amount one cooks their own food is tightly related to one’s long-term health.

As an aspiring health professional, I want to encourage people to cook from scratch as often as possible. But I do not want to go back to a world where men were the sole earners and women were obliged to do all of the cooking. These are not our only options, of course. There is a happy medium, perhaps where you are doing a lot of food shopping and prep on Sunday so you can take less time at the end of the work day. It might mean having less time to relax, which would of course be a bummer. It might mean a little less variety and complexity than if you had all afternoon to cook.

Tonight, for instance, for Meatless Monday I served my family a lentil stew over rice, roasted portobello mushrooms, and garlicky broccoli. I spent roughly three hours cooking, and that’s not counting the time my mom and I spent cleaning up. I’m on winter break. I have nothing better to do, I take my time, and I’m really starting to love cooking. I cannot imagine taking that much time to cook on a weeknight if I had the career I envision for myself plus a family to take care of.


How do we make whole-food cooking accessible to working adults and parents, especially those who have had little access to food education and have spent their lives relying on fast food and packaged food? How do we empower women to take charge of their independence, their careers, and the food their families eat? I’ve never said that I have all the answers, and I definitely don’t about this: your thoughts would be much appreciated.





7 thoughts on “Are healthful cooking and feminism at odds with each other?

  1. Such an interesting post! I teach an Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies course and we talk about food for at least one class period per semester. I usually focus on women’s negative relationship to food as a result of body anxiety and also the lack of access that some marginalized groups have to healthy food due to costs/availability. But this post is making me want to extend that lecture and look deeper into this relationship, too. Thank you for such a thought-provoking post!

  2. Why is it a woman’s job what the families eat? You should direct this more to men AND women. Also, why is this on the feminism tag, it has more to do with nutrition? Women don’t always like cooking, and the title is so offensive. We must empower women for their careers and their OWN diets, it’s not their duty to cook and clean for the family.

    • I agree with you; I did not mean to imply that food for the family is/should be a woman’s responsibility, in fact I really meant to challenge that convention. I included the word feminism in the title and tag because I discovered that the advent of processed food potentially contributed to women being able to enter the workforce. I’m glad you shared your objections; you made me notice some of the implications of my writing that I didn’t consider before.

      • I’m glad that you realized it. It’s not the woman’s fault that they want to be equal. Maybe men should learn more about cooking and nutrition so they don’t get fat. They just can’t rely and assume a woman’s going to be a cooking slave for them.

  3. You blow my mind all the time. Every time I am on this blog I am so inspired. This is great information and a really fresh insight into the complexity that we face while trying to cure the world’s health issues. Nothing is an independent factor. All things operate in complexity and chaos systems. You’r perspective on health is exactly the kind we need to push us to consider previously overlooked issues. I so wish we could sit down to coffee once a week. Love your mind and your heart! Keep it up!

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