Feeding A Family Isn’t A Job For Mothers Alone by B. Wilson
by Bee Wilson
In an era of processed food, wholesome home cooking is more important than ever – and men need to share that burden
… For too long, women have been fed the idea that the task of feeding children is all on them. This does not always work out well, for either mother or child.
… I somehow got it in my head that the job of feeding the children was all mine. It is still too easy for the mother to become the only one who plans the meals, shops for ingredients, schelps them home, lovingly cooks them and watches anxiously for a child’s reaction to his or her first taste of something new.
No wonder many families in the modern world opt for convenience foods instead. As the food writer Deb Perelman observed, “There are many good reasons to never cook at home.”
Only now that it is ceasing to be norm for mothers to stand laboriously stirring a pot can we appreciate just how much we owe to the heroically thankless, everyday cooking of our own mothers.
… Around the world, there has been a radical worsening in children’s diets in recent years, along with a rise in childhood obesity and infant tooth decay.
This has occurred alongside a decline in home cooking, as women increasingly work outside the home. Today, the main educator of a child’s palate may no longer be a parent but a multinational food corporation.
Where children around the world used to eat varied diets based on their own local cuisine… now their diets are converging on a single palate of sweet – salty – fatty packaged foods.
… The rise of unwholesome children’s foods is sometimes interpreted to mean that mothers have failed in their duty as feeders. But mothers aren’t the ones who devised the recipes for those boxes of frosted flakes and sugary yogurts.
The real lesson here is that reclaiming “mother’s food” is everyone’s responsibility, if we want to see future generations grow up without the health problems of our own.
A mother’s cooking is a wonderful and powerful thing, but it doesn’t have to be done by mothers alone. In most societies, whether human or animal, the act of feeding has been sometimes collective and collaborative rather than individual.
You know that mother bird ferrying nutritious worms to the nest? She has back-up. I discovered recently that when a nest of robin eggs hatches, the father robin as well as the mother takes on the job of feeding.
Like her, he flies off to fetch worms, dropping them tenderly into the open beaks. The father and mother bird work together to guard the nest as their vulnerable offspring eat.
We often assume that the act of feeding a child comes naturally to a mother, thanks to some kind of innate feminine talent, but this isn’t so.
Among primates such as monkeys, infants are often fed and groomed by females who are not their mothers, in order to teach others how to do a better job.
Feeding, as much as eating, is a skill, with which most of us could use a little help.
… The idea that feeding children well might take more than one person is hardly news to same-sex households, who are re-making the rulebook on who cleans, who cooks and who looks after children.
In these homes, there is often no assumption that just one person has a duty to be the feeder.
Yet there is still pressure on mothers in heterosexual relationships to be the ones who figure out the myriad snacks, drinks and meals in a child’s day.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that women get pigeonholed as natural feeders, given the fierce biological and historical associations between women and food. During gestation and breast-feeding, the nourishment of mother and child is intimately related.
… Historically, mothers were asked to make their own appetites completely subservient to the needs of their children.
One 19th century British advice books told them exactly what foods to select while pregnant….
Thankfully, women are no longer expected to see themselves purely as vessels for a child. Yet it is still remarkably common to encounter this view that a mother alone is responsible for the job of feeding.
This weight of expectation can feel exhausting.
[The article author talks about meeting a woman friend for lunch. Her woman friend had a son about to go off to college, and she was reflecting back on all the meals she had prepared for her son]
As a woman who worked, she [the author’s friend] couldn’t quite fathom why it still fell to her to decide the dinner menu for her family of four.
Many women, she observed, have already stepped down from the cooking burden, opting instead for convenience foods, Uber Eats and frozen TV dinners. Part of her would love to do the same, and yet, for all her annoyance, something still drew her back to the kitchen and the value of a home-cooked meal.
Like many people in our culture, my friend was laboring under a false dichotomy. She believed that the available feeding options for her family were either do all the cooking herself or condemn her children to a junk-food diet.
But there is a third way, which is that people other than mothers can take their turn at the stove and maybe even enjoy it.
There are encouraging signs that this shift is already happening, at least for some families. The great, hopeful untold story of modern food is the rise in domestic cooking by men.
When we lament the decline of cooking, generally what we have in mind is cooking by mothers.
…But millions of men whose father never picked up a wooden spoon are now making cooking a part of their live – and not just in the once a year performance of grilling meat for a barbecue.
The same study showed that in 1965, only 29% of American men made cooking a regular part of their lives, whereas by 2008 42% did.
The amount of time a male American cook spends in the kitchen has also increased from 37 minutes a day in 1965 to 45 minutes in 2008.
After all these centuries of mothers stirring a pot, why shouldn’t others take their turn?
Family dinners in my own house became happier all around after my husband, and later my teenage children, started to do their own versions of mother’s cooking, using my collection of recipe books, mostly by women.
From reading Nigella Lawson, my husband learned how to roast a chicken. From the Indian cookbooks of Meera Sodha, he has started to make comforting vegetable curries and biryani and dal. I love the fact that he is learning how to cook not so much like a male chef as a Gujarati homemaker.
In this world of junk food and stress, we could all benefit from the nurturing power of more mother’s cooking in our lives. But that doesn’t mean that mothers always have to be the ones doing it.