…some of the first feminist and intersectional writing my Nani ever read
July 17, 2018 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Justice Among the Jell-O Recipes: The Feminist History of Food Journalism
“These early food pages weren’t perfect — there was more than a little man-pleasing advice and a distinct lack of cultural and economic diversity, both in the newsrooms and on the pages. Yet the food pages were among the first public, published places women could begin to reframe their role in society, find agency in political conversations, and highlight issues they found important. Those who do remember these early decades of food writing often dismiss it as a forum where housewives shared recipes or shopping tips, but this ignores the major cultural shifts the coverage pushed.”
posted by not_the_water (11 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, that's really interesting. That story of "deep themes 'hidden' in plain sight" reminds me of that Susan Glaspell 1916 one-act, Trifles, where the sheriff is investigating the death of a man and ignores the clues of the domestic abuse that provoked the murder as "trifles" because they're hidden in a sewing box.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:07 PM on July 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I hope the author of this article has a book in the works. I really, really do.
I would read 600 more pages unpacking the research and significance of "women's pages" and cultural food trends.

posted by SaharaRose at 4:18 PM on July 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'll echo that I hope that the author gets a book out of this article. Its a pretty rich subject.

Here in Canada, for my grandmother's and mother's generation, we had Jehane Benoît or simply Madame Benoît. While she may not have discussed women's rights explicitly, she led by example - she had opened Canada's first vegetarian restaurant in the 1930s, elevated the drudgery of cooking to an act of love & appreciation with effortless charm, advocated the use of labour saving devices in the kitchen (like microwaves and convection ovens) by creating cookbooks and travelling across the country (especially to remote communities) to teach how to cook with them, she tweaked & modernised classic home cooking to be healthier or easier. As a food historian & archivist she collected recipes from across the country diligently saving and collecting recipes and food lore largely neglected as "woman's work".

It'd be great to see more about these unsung heroes of the "Women’s Pages".
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:41 PM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

there probably should be more books on this, but I'm sort of despairing about it because there have already been at least 150 years of books on women's work at nesting scales. And not only do Men forget about them, as in the Craig Claiborne example in the article, but apparently women do too. Over and over and over.
posted by clew at 4:55 PM on July 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

clew, I was going to recommend Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad too. Without that book, I wouldn't understand how what is considered uniquely terrible about 20th-century American cooking came to pass, and how it did so from the best of intentions.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:16 PM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is excellent. WRT clew and Countess Elena's comments above, books and documents on cooking and 'home economics' are some of our key sources on the historical place of women in society (in many societies, in fact). As this author very clearly shows, they were also a way to establish feminist and progressive perspectives in a media environment that was broadly dismissive or hostile to those perspectives.

It really bugs me when food writing is dismissed as inconsequential. Our relationship with food is so complex and fundamental to our world: it takes in colonisation, politics, conflict, technology, and ecology, just for starters.
posted by prismatic7 at 6:03 PM on July 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Having had the ultimate Sicilian grandma, I can understand some of this. When I was younger my grandma made the Sunday meal. She would get up before it was light.

To explain, our house then was a big old thing. Grandma and granpa were on the bottom floor. On the second floor was an illegal kitchen and bathroom. As well as our old room. And a living room that my parents had. On the third floor was my room and my brother's room. And what we called the 'old room'. The attic room. With all of our stored stuff.

Anyway, as a child I can remember my most favorite memory. On Sunday it was the scent of garlic and onion. Sauteed by Grandma. The ultimate wake up.

It would always wake me up. It was a fine and wonderful thing. We were at the top of a staircase. That scent, that delicious allium scent, was a wakeup call. I'm sure that any Italian here knows it.

Anyway, to the point. My grandma taught me how to cook. She had only one written recipe. The only one she wrote down. The one for zeppole. This one was special. This is the one that her mother gave her. Everything else she made freehand, depending upon what she could bring home in her in her bag that looked like a fish net.

She always made the zeppole exactly the way her mother did. And they were fabulous!
posted by Splunge at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

My dissertation was going to be something like this--how the household could be a place of female authority, and everything created in it, from writing to food to needlework was an opportunity for female expression and expertise.

But I couldn't get my shit together and didn't want to be an academic anyway. I still love this stuff though!
posted by apricot at 7:09 PM on July 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

"From the start of her tenure, she also introduced readers to diverse cuisines: recipes for Indian, Jewish, and Creole dishes appeared alongside French-inspired foods and techniques that were considered the most sophisticated of the day. Nickerson’s radical editorial choices, commonplace in food sections today, helped grow acceptance of marginalized communities more broadly."
I'm sure readers of today might find some of these examples watered down or "inauthentic," but damned if I have to admire this. We have a stereotype of the 50s in America as being nothing but pot roasts and steak, and here's women trying to expand the country's culinary world.

And I think that's a good thing, despite whatever ethnic essentialism can come along with taking a stab at "exotic" food. The extent to which disgust features so heavily in hate and prejudice is one reason I think people should try really hard to confront their visceral aversions, even if they seem harmless and arbitrary--actually, especially if they seem harmless and arbitrary (obviously, don't try to tough out anaphylaxis).
posted by pykrete jungle at 7:45 PM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

For those looking for a book on this topic, the author of this article references the author who actually wrote the book on this topic: Kimberly Wilmo VOSS https://g.co/kgs/mbnFSr
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:54 AM on July 18, 2018

MFK Fisher did at least as much as Craig Claiborne to elevate the food writing in the US. She had her issues, but was a brilliant writer.
posted by dancing_angel at 10:26 PM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

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