Cairns, K., Johnston, J., & Baumann, S. (2010). Caring About Food: Doing Gender in the Foodie Kitchen Gender & Society, 24 (5), 591-615 DOI: 10.1177/0891243210383419
Like many people here in Australia, I was surprised when the 2009 series of Master Chef was won by Julie Goodwin and not by the woman she beat for the title, Poh Ling Yeow. While Julie is a competent cook, she is, by her own admission, ‘home style’ in the tradition of 1960s culinary guru and living legend, Margaret Fulton. Poh, on the other hand, is brilliant, creative, chaotic, and dare I say it, perhaps a bit too much to handle. Standing in judgment before three super blokey blokes (even the one who wears a cravat and brightly coloured pants is deadly machismo), it was clear that Poh had transgressed the homosocial hegemonic domain of the professional kitchen.
Women challenging that domain, not good…
Women dutifully cooking for their husbands at home, excellent…
I found this article by Cairns et al. (2010) per chance and when reading it discovered several little gems. For example, that loathsome TV chef, Jamie Oliver, represents a brand of ‘culinary masculinity’ whereby men who cook do so as if on a permanent summer holiday (Hollows, 2003, cited in Cairns et al. 2010, p.594). Women, who cook, on the other hand, are routinely cast in the role of how to instructively break down the competencies required to correctly boil an egg (2010, p.594). An insidious sexual division of labour thus operates in which men are to kitchen as high art, and women, as domestic necessity (although, of course, even Tom Cruise loves a good roast leg of lamb)…
Yes, contrary to what John Mendoza might think (see Breaking the Silence… 2010, p.56), we actually ‘do’ gender (2010, p.595). Every second of every day in every way imaginable and several others besides, men and women make choices on how they constitute their gender and that includes, how they cook and how they eat (2010, p.595). The practice of food is, therefore, a defining characteristic of class, culture, and gender. We can immediately define someone by her or his culinary gear: three hats vs. KFC, bangers and mash vs. tabouleh, international celebrity vs. quiet success. I would agree with Cairns et al. (2010, p.596) that when looking at the emerging phenomenon of ‘foodies’, we must do so with regard to the context in which those foodies operate.
So what did the authors (2010) find by talking with foodies?
1. That female foodies loved food as passionately as their male counterparts did and so, put paid to that fiction that women cannot derive pleasure from anything (2010, p.599).
2. That the handing down of egg-boiling techniques from mother to daughter was a powerfully persistent legacy that doggedly defied 21st century reality checks (2010, p.601).
3. That childhood memories of cooking involved ma working hard to prepare meals with love and care while da put his pig-ignorant feet up on the sofa (2010, pp.601 & 602).
4. That female foodies displayed elitist tendencies, in that they castigated those mothers who failed to provide quality (sic expensive) food for their families (2010, p.603).
5. That conversely, male foodies seldom talked about food with reference to its perceived or actual health benefits (2010, p.603).
6. That female foodies were torn between cooking for care or pleasure while for the majority of male foodies, cooking was always a leisurely pursuit (2010, p.604).
7. That male foodies adopted a technocratic, instrumental, and highly stereotypical approach to their work, highlighting functionality and process adherence (2010, pp. 606 & 607).
In conclusion, Cairns et al. (2010) argue that ‘[w]hile foodie discourse opens up possibilities for both men and women to retool gendered performances’ (p.610), many women are effectively ‘stuck’ on several fronts. For example, to concurrently try to be the ideal cook at home and the aspirational celebrity chef in the public domain. Moreover, the less social capital available to any woman who cooks, the less likely it will be that she can affect a presence among the toady A-list of plate-up specialists. And we still wonder why most celebrity chefs are men…?