The other day, a young girl asked me how could I consider myself an empowered woman, when I spend so much time in the kitchen.
I have never considered ‘in the kitchen’ as the nemesis of ’empowered woman’. I cook because I love to; I cook because I like to know what I am eating, and where the food that I eat comes from. I also cook because I was raised by women who cooked, and whom I have never seen as inferior to the men in my family. Ultimately, I cook because it is in the kitchen that I was able to win my very long battle with anorexia and bulimia.
But her question had me meditating on the meaning of the word empowerment, a term that has become richer and more varied in definition with the passing of time, from the 1960s to the present day. Are all the women who proudly take care of the kitchen empowered? Or is it necessary to avoid stove, oven and apron to be empowered?
By association, the kitchen has always been the place for women, and until recently, often with a derogatory connotation. Women cooked at home, or for their employer; they served the food, regularly interrupting their meal, if eating at all with their dining companions, and they cleaned up after, too. Women cooked, men went to work: rule of thumb. Cooking wasn’t considered a real job, and when it became such, men proved their ability, creativity, and culinary education: they became chefs.
A little simplified, I know, but we get the heart of the matter.
And by the way, some of my favorite chefs are men, this is not a condemnation of men. I was lucky to mostly encounter great male figures on my path. But we can all agree on the fact that having a penis and possibly stronger muscles doesn’t make a male human being a MAN.
But let’s get back to the kitchen, and to what empowerment means…
The reality is this: Men overwhelmingly hold the highest paying and most prominent kitchen jobs at ambitious, independent restaurants across America. Women occupy just 6.3 percent, or 10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups analyzed by Bloomberg.
This article was written in 2014. However, to this day, and despite the cultural change the culinary industry has gone through, most top chefs are men. Watch an episode of Chopped (which I love) and out of the three judges, the overwhelming majority of the times 2 are men; out of the four contestants 3 are. I assume Food Network does try to get more women on the show, but why are they so hard to find? Does being on TV empower a woman and make her legit in her field of expertise? No, but TV, when educational or positively fun, can inspire those women who watch it at home, and that perhaps don’t have much of a choice when it comes to their future, their present, their lives.
If women are highly regarded for their culinary abilities at home, they rarely run a professional kitchen. Some have been able to claim their seat in the male-dominated culinary world (Julia Child, Alice Waters, Niki Nakayama, Susan Feniger, Patti Jackson, etc.) but in 2016, women chefs still don’t receive the same acknowledgment, respect, airtime, and validity.
But what does really empower women? Women shouldn’t have to fight for a role, either in the kitchen or in politics, in the arts or in school.
Understanding and embracing the meaning of empowerment has never been so crucial for a woman: because it’s 2016, and not only does Donald Trump gets away with ‘alleged’ sexual assault, but he also freely brags and lies about it. It’s 2016, and girls are still told how to dress in order not to ‘entice’ men. It’s 2016, and men still get away with rape, whether in a prestigious college, in a club, or at home, where the kitchen is.
Empowerment means that we don’t let a famous and disgusting misogynist grab our pussy. We don’t vote for him to become the president of the United States of America, because the future of our daughters, let alone humanity, is at stake. Empowerment means that we don’t settle for less because it is what we are taught to do, we don’t cover our bodies to avoid being raped, and we don’t care if we have gained some weight since the good, old bikini days. We don’t cook because we are not allowed to do anything else, we do it because we care. We give birth, we have the power to change this world by raising children who will become good adults. We can feed our children with healthy food, food that we have prepared with love, and not bought at the store and heated up in a microwave. We have the power to change the course of where today is going, towards a tomorrow where if a man tries to grab us by the pussy, he will punished with zero tolerance.
So to answer the question the young girl asked me the other day, I spend time in the kitchen because I love myself, and those I feed. I spend time in the kitchen because food has more power than we realize. I work in the kitchen, and I am an empowered woman who does her part to change things.