“Food is a feminist issue – and not just because historically women have been the ones to cultivate it, harvest it, preserve it, can it, budget it, shop for it, cook it, serve it, clean up after it, and/or mass produce it in assembly-line work at the Frito Factory…”– Bonnie J. Morris
There are usually two publications I read immediately upon receiving: The Sun, a monthly magazine that celebrates the wide and varied spectrum of human narratives and experiences, and Gastronomica, a quarterly journal that celebrates the wide and varied spectrum of all things related to food and food culture. I received the Fall 2012 issue of Gastronomica weeks ago, though I couldn’t say exactly when because during that time I started working as an instructor-in-training for a group of bright, sweet middle schoolers. I spent those weeks training and training, and devoted what little time I had outside of training to planning and planning. When I finally granted myself the permission to stop planning and read the current Gastronomica issue, I experienced a series of unsettling revelations.
In the issue, a writer named Paula M. Salvio presents her study of food blogs written by women and the commonalities that appear between them. According to Salvio, the larger body of work written by female food bloggers can be distilled into two categories: 1) “narrative references to postwar cookery books with specific references to a discourse of comfort,” and 2) “narratives of domestic discomfort.” Dyspepsia roiled as I read about the bloggers who apologize for their lapses in writing (I’ve totally done that before – in fact, I’m kind of doing it now) and bloggers who interweave autobiographical details, positive and negative, into their exploration of food (ditto). She concludes with the uplifting suggestion that female food bloggers are actively creating a culture in which to connect and support one another as we face the stresses of challenges of work and domesticity. This comforted me for about a minute, until I realized that not only was I a stereotype of both narrative categories, I had also forsaken my culture of food peers through an unintentional gap in my writing.
Panic whacked me upside the head. Suddenly, I couldn’t recall the last time I cozied up with a recipe or made anything but the most perfunctory, quick fix meal. When was the last time I lingered in the cookbook section at Barnes and Noble? When was the last time I thought, I should cook something in beer today! It’s been over five months since I opened my Google Reader, overflowing with posts from bloggers whose writing and photography have historically been my threads of inspiration. When did I stop paying purposeful, measured attention to my central passions?
The middle school faculty met with parents a week prior to the start of school for orientation. I found myself face to adolescent face with enormity of the responsibility of my new position. I also caught a glimpse of its potential, and I liked what I saw. I have the freedom to create my own curriculum, heavy on writing – to my good fortune. I can use my talents to inspire young minds, something my grandfather urged me to do since I was a teenager. (My mother would have burst into proud tears to learn that I am finally pursuing the profession she urged throughout my life.) Quirk and spunk are assets in an environment such as this… I only hope that students embrace this notion sooner rather than later. But if my goal is to foster open creative expression among my students, then it must be something I practice too. If I want to help them unlock the dynamics of style and prose, shouldn’t I commit to following a similar path of discovery?
Food is a feminist issue. Everyday, I wake before dawn to squeeze in a run, then rush home to assemble school lunches, shower and get ready, ferret Kai out the door, and deliver Rory to her babysitter-du-jour, barely making it to work on time. I duck out of meetings to retrieve Rory from the babysitter and transport her to afternoon kindergarten, only to return to classes and meetings that last until dinner. What’re you making for dinner? I ask my husband, keenly aware that I will be preparing dinner myself and/or phoning in an order for take-out. I’m not willing to concede to failure in any role.
And why the constant stress? It was so freeing to read Peter Mayle’s honest assessment of a writer’s occupation in Toujours Provence. “There is constant doubt that anyone will want to read what you’re writing, panic at missing deadlines that you have imposed on yourself, and the deflating realization that those deadlines couldn’t matter less to the rest of the world,” he writes. “A thousand words a day, or nothing: it makes no difference to anyone else but you.” Though Mayle is obviously not a female blogger, I think his notion of anxiety caused by self-imposed deadlines holds validity. In an online sphere of such immediacy, we create constructs that spur us to produce more and with high frequency. But, without an editor or a book deal, who’s really keeping track? Who are we actually disappointing when inspiration wanes? Does quality of work suffer? Mayle also points out the intense pleasure that a writer receives from having his/her thoughts and ideas heard (or read). “What makes it worth living,” he writes, “is the happy shock of discovering that you have managed to give a few hours of entertainment to people you’ve never met.” This is why we write, what we miss when we don’t write, and why we press ourselves: our urgent compulsion to produce and our need for validation are irrevocably intertwined.
A feminist issue and a labor of love: I skip meals, but wouldn’t dream of letting my children skip them. I am their mother – and mothers mean comfort, often in the form of food. In my case, food means creativity. I lapse in my writing, but can’t fathom damming the flow of ideas for good. I might divert a stream of creativity to the classroom for the sake of inspiring young minds, but I’m lost if I can’t find a tributary that reconnects me to that which gives me such vital sustenance. I embrace the recent ebbs in the current of my days – and welcome an entirely new group of opportunities. Maybe this isn’t an apology, but rather a joyful song.
I survived the first days of school. I enjoyed them, in fact: hearing my students’ laughter as they used teamwork to unravel human knots or mused whether zombies actually exist in real life. My return to the creative fold reassures me that my beloved trifecta of cooking, writing, and reading hasn’t died, as I silently feared; it was only taking an extended siesta as I diverted necessary energies to the demands of an exciting new beginning. Slowly but surely, my appetite returns. I made lasagna last weekend… with honest-to-goodness marinara sauce that I slow-cooked with a friend’s garden-grown tomatoes. I read Gastronomica cover to cover, and, thanks be, I’m still writing.