Feminism Makes You Fat

A rather provocative headline, isn't it?  Yet, there is a little ripple going around foodie circles right now that believes just that.  Let me state these are progressive, liberal people making this claim. And they actually have a bit of a point. Before you get your dander up and start attacking me, hear me out.  I have credentials here, as I was a Women's Studies major in college. (Yes, there really is such a major, and yes my father is still shaking his head over it Anyway, Michael Pollan, the foodie and author, was reviewing a new book, "The Taste for Civilization:  Food, Politics and Civil Society" by Janet A. Flammang in the New York Times Book Review. His review included the following:
In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating "foodwork" -- everything involved in putting meals on the family table -- we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal.
In other words, women took off their aprons and started throwing down poorly prepared frozen dinners and take out containers in their quest for the corner office.  Several studies have claimed foods that are processed with poor nutrition lead to obesity.  Therefore, working women are one of the causes of obesity. This article on Salon calls out Pollan for his review of Flammang because he didn't challenge her particular point and merely let it stand.  In feminist ire, this is tantamount to sedition. Well, before we get our panties in a wad, perhaps we should look at the idea Flammang is presenting.   Basically, the more that women work out of the home, the less likely we are to cook healthy meals for our family.  Stop.  Breathe.  Think about it for a second.  This seems a little plausible, doesn't it? I'm not saying it's right and that we should accept it, I'm just saying it's plausible.  I try to cook meals at home as much as I can. It's really important to me that my family eat well and ingest as few chemicals as possible.  The only way I can control that is to shop for and cook my own food.  But when life gets busy, I'm reaching for the take out menu just like everyone else. Should the men be stepping in here?  Yup, sure.  But we're trying to overcome generations of tradition.  My guy sure does way more housework than my Dad did.  We're going in the right direction.  We just haven't gotten all the way there yet. So for people upset at the book, and poking at Michael Pollan, I would like to offer an alternative.  Why don't we talk to the guys in our life about maybe cooking a bit more?  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  We could start with something easy like pasta and work our way up.  Or maybe, if our guys truly hate to cook, we can swap out some household chores so that we have more time to cook ourselves. The fact is, this isn't really a feminist issue as much as it's a family issue.  Nuclear families need to sit down and come up with a plan that works well.  Whatever their personal solution is, it's the right decision for them. No one else needs to judge them. We all know that one of the contributing factors to obesity is eating out a lot and eating a lot of processed foods.  So this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.  We are starting to wake up to this reality and there are more and more tools out there to help families find the right path for them.  Michelle Obama is working her Let's Move plan.  Organic foods are increasing sales in the double digits ever year.  I hardly ever have to explain what a CSA is anymore. It takes a while for society to change.  Let's give ourselves a break and just work a little bit harder to get there. What do you think? Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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12 Responses to Feminism Makes You Fat

  1. Christine May 28, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    Interesting and thought-provoking post! I certain agree with the claim that when women moved into the workplace, the quality of meals in the household declined and yes, that can consequently be linked to an increase of obesity rates. Of course, it’s never quite that simple: during this same time period you have canning companies and frozen food companies and processed food companies lobbying holy hell out of government and infusing our grocery stores with pre-made, processed, sugary bullshit that were never in stores prior to the 1970’s (or, at least not in such quantity). And let’s not even get into the influx of fast food restaurants that started to blossom during that same time period (1960-70)…Fast Food Nation goes into way more detail in this particular topic.

    So yes, I think that Flammang certainly has a valid point, but to blame healthy eating issues and obesity in family solely on women working would be a little narrow-minded. (I don’t know if he pigeon-holed this issue. Probably not; any decent scholar wouldn’t do such a thing.)

    And you’re right…I think that modern men are stepping up to the plate little by little. My husband does way more housework than my father does. My husband *NEVER EVER* expects me to cook. Ever. My father certainly expected my mother to put a hot meal on the table every day of her life. But on the days when I am too tired to cook a healthy meal, does my husband step up to make something healthy for me? Nope. His version of “I’ll take care of dinner tonight” is to call for Chinese takeout. I’ve always given him props; at least he’s trying, right? I could do more in teaching him how to cook better, and perhaps I shall.

    Again, thanks for a thought-provoking post!!!


  2. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    Thanks for the great comments Christine. I actually tried to teach my husband to cook. We had to abort the mission so we could stay married! But my son is interested in cooking and helps me all the time. I figure his future spouse will love me :-)

    Your points on the rise of the fast food industry and processed food are spot on and I’m sure Michael Pollan wasn’t so narrow in his thinking which is why I wanted to call the Salon post out. Basically whenever they figured out how to make high fructose corn syrup (I think about 1972) we were all doomed …


  3. Leora Wenger May 28, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    When I first got married, I tried to teach my husband to cook. It took him 5 hours to make one recipe; meanwhile, I would be finished with 5 recipes.

    Instead, I have taught my boys to cook. Their wives at least will have good desserts.

    I actually work part-time at home – one of the reasons is to have time to prepare healthy foods for my family. I’ve also studied macrobiotics; unfortunately, cooking macrobiotic meals takes even longer than normal home cooked meals. But providing healthy meals, whether from a man or a woman, does take time.

    I agree that this is a family issue.

  4. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Thanks Leora, I agree macrobiotic can be very time consuming. I’ve given it a go a couple of times and it’s just too much work for me. Plus half that stuff you’re not supposed to eat on a macro diet I really like!

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’ll check out your blog soon.


  5. PilatesGirl_BB May 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    One of my “required” traits in a mate was the ability to cook, because I sure can’t. My husband cooks 90% of the meals, and I am slowly picking up on his secrets. We don’t have kids yet, but what works for us now is that we cook “together,” meaning I make the salad, he makes the main dish; I de-vein shrimp and he cooks them up. I guess in our kitchen, I’m the sous and he’s the main! I do the majority of the housework, but only because I’m really particular, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t clean the entire house if I asked him!

  6. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    LOL Beth, I bet you’re less particular once you start having kids … Lisa

  7. Trece May 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    My daughters are 20, almost-23 and almost-28. I worked for an insurance company for almost a year when they were 13, 16 and 21. The oldest was already working, but her sibs were home. That year, if the 16 yr. old hadn’t cooked, there wouldn’t have been dinner, since my husband chose to spend that year on the computer (not working). It was the year the 13 yr. old began to cook.

    I never cease to be amazed by my daughters’ talk about their agemates who not only don’t know how to cook, but don’t have any real appreciable knowledge of a “home-cooked, made-from-scratch, even including dessert” meal. I even encountered people who thought that Roast Beef was pot roast.

    I do use prepared spagetti sauce and pizza sauce, but I make the dough myself. One of my girls is a superior cake maker, another one specializes in pies. We make waffles, pancakes, coffee cake and muffins on Sunday mornings (not all at once, LOL).

    I think the basic premise is sound: as people spend more time away from home, they find substitutes. Families could “not starve” by using prepared foods, or convenience foods.

    Sic transit gloria mundi. . .

  8. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    Trece, great comments and I agree. When I married my husband I realized quickly all he could prepare was mac & cheese from a box and frozen pizza. I was appalled that his parents never thought this life skill was necessary for him. As it turns out, he’s pretty much gotten away with it too …

    But my parents taught my sister and I to cook right away. We’d pluck veggies from the garden to make a salad, fresh & delicious. And … my Dad was the cook of the family. My Mom really only covers the basics, it was my Dad that was passionate about food and got me into it. I wasn’t much of a cook until I had my son and family meals became important, but I even asked for a got an apron with cherries on it for Valentine’s Day this year.

    Food is Love. When I was a kid that meant my parents would take us a few times a year to McDonalds. But now it means what I prepare for my family, from scratch, to keep them healthy and sated. :-)


  9. Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci May 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Great post, Lisa. You know, even working, I would be able to make a good healthy dinner if it wasn’t all the activities the kids are involved in. Summertime is when things slow down and we get to cook great, healthy, non-frozen meals. e

  10. Susan Sommers May 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    The working woman and or single parent argument is one that I’ve heard, but cannot agree with. The USA is the most obese country in the world. I don’t believe there is any arguement about that. However, we are not the only country that has women in the work place or single parent homes. My question then is simple. Why doesn’t any other country with the same scenarios have the obesity problems that we do?

    One answer that I suggest is we are a Fast Food Nation. No other country that I know of has Fast Food on every corner. Their food mentality is different from ours. I believe this is where the heart of the problem is. Not because woman work.

  11. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Agreed Lori, kids schedules can be really difficult to work around. My son isn’t old enough yet for it to effect us a lot, but I know that’s coming … L–

  12. Lisa Johnson May 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    I agree that women working is not the overwhelming reason why. But I think it may be a small (pretty small) contributing factor. You’re right to point the finger elsewhere first. But, it’s a very complicated issue … you can’t just pull one thread free from the problem. There are dozens of reasons that Americans have gotten to this point, it’s a layering of health care, entitlement, business, society, food lobbyists, food manufacturer’s, politicians looking the other way, USDA being a toothless organization and on and on.

    A lot of people rolled their eyes when Michelle Obama rolled out her 70 point plan a couple weeks ago as overkill. But you really are looking at that many different things!

    Thanks for your comments Susan, I really appreciate you participating in the conversation,


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