A young mother of two, tired of spending her evenings in the kitchen hammering out slow, “sustainable” recipes, recently embarked on an interesting experiment: She and her husband would try one month of quick-and-dirty dinners—“if it came frozen, wrapped in cellophane, in a plastic tub or with a pop top . . . we would buy it and eat it”—followed by one month of “the locavore’s dream,” complete with herb-growing, bean-soaking, and trash-composting.
“This would be a battle between the frozen chicken piccata with 38 ingredients and the BLT made from Prather Ranch bacon, hand-kneaded bread, farm-fresh veggies and home-blended mayonnaise,” Sierra Filucci explains in the Sacramento News & Review. “But more than that, it would be a test of what it means to be a mother—a mother who wants to feed her family and keep them healthy, but who also wants more from life than kneading dough and a sink full of dishes.”
Filucci has some refreshing thoughts about the shortcomings of the sustainable food movement (as personified by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and others), specifically concerning gender and the division of household labor. “Maybe, I thought, this elevation of food to a holy plain is a noble movement that is simply ignorant of the real lives of modern working families,” she writes. “And without realizing it, this movement, one that’s so appealing to young progressives, is actually pushing for a more traditional family structure, gently nudging women back to a place our forebears fought so hard to escape: the kitchen.”
After a bland month immersed in the frozen milieu of Trader Joe’s, in which “food faded into the background” of the family’s lives, it was time for cooking month. And after the easy weeks of preparing food via microwave oven, it was clear to Filucci that there was only one way for the slow method to win out:
If the sustainable-food movement is to succeed—not just in drawing in the small segment of society that has the luxury of time, but in persuading modern working families to garden, buy local and cook from scratch—then it needs to promote fully the idea of shared labor. In his books and talks, Pollan weaves a romantic ideal of wholesomeness based on individual acts. He and his compatriots create a mythology around farming and cooking that seems achievable—as though you could reach it if you just stretched enough, tried hard enough and sacrificed enough. But who exactly is sacrificing? The reality is as unworkable today as it was in the 1950s, when women’s lives were limited to the kitchen and kids. And it’s still as unworkable as it was in the 1980s, when my mom tried to manage the house, the family and the job. It will remain unworkable now, unless all adults in a family participate, and participate fully.
For me, that means letting go of the notion that I can forever control everything that feeds my children’s precious little bodies. For my husband, that means acknowledging how tricky it is to plan meals and execute them with whiny children around. And for the slow-food movement, it means realizing that what they ask of communities and households—while worthy and noble—falls unequally at women’s feet.