My attitude towards food has been described as odd. I’m hypoglycemic, which means I eat often or people die, but I rarely rejected a food opportunity even before I started Hulking Out. I think I’m addicted. If I didn’t eat, it would probably kill me.
My enthusiasm for all things edible does not make me a “foodie”. If anything, it’s taken me in the opposite direction. I appreciate a gourmet meal as much as the next guy, but I’ve experienced the same deep satisfaction eating a chili dog from my hometown’s hotdog restaurant.
I once let a friendship die because she was so obsessed with counting calories she started counting mine, too, making eating an exercise in shame. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize my relationship with food isn’t the weird one.
Luckily, I’m a great cook.
I Know My Way Around a Kitchen
- I pour a mean bowl of Cap’n Crunch
- I’m an eggspert. Watch me cook omelets, fried eggs, scrambled eggs… actually that’s kind of it.
- I haven’t figured out how to make toast without burning it yet, but when I do, it will be magnifique.
- I can boil macaroni with the best of them. I’m afraid to do spaghetti. It looks tricky.
There’s a reason this isn’t a cooking blog.
But I have my own apartment now, and I’m really trying to be a grownup. With maturity in mind and a legitimate fear of starving to death spurring me on, I decided to learn how to cook.
I’ve Never Tried to Cook Before Because…
…I’ve never had to. My parents did most of the cooking when I was a kid. Then I went to college, where my job paid me in meal plans. I spent the months after graduation being broke and eating a lot of ramen.
…I found ways to avoid it, like ingratiating myself to friends who can cook by dazzling them with my dish-washing skills and occasionally taking them to Taco Bell.
…ten years ago, I made extremely salty brownies that my family still rags on. I’ve tried baking, but I inevitably get bored and careless and misread or skip a step. Have you ever had a salty brownie? It’s not a good thing.
…it feels like betrayal. I’ve always felt like if I started cooking and enjoyed it, I would be betraying the women who fought for my right not to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Like if I’m not wearing shoes and childless in a voting booth, I’m throwing freedoms away and perpetuating a backwards stereotype.
There came a day (last week), however, when I looked in my pantry and discovered it was 75% candy. I congratulated myself on achieving that childhood dream, but, skeptical of Fun Dip’s nutritional value, decided it was finally time to pull out the cookbook my grandma gave me for Christmas. My grandma contributed recipes to it when her Junior Welfare League put it together in 1982 and has given a copy to all my female relatives since then. I flipped through, looking for an easy recipe, and noticed some surprising things.
Some Surprising Things
- A few recipes looked really intimidating: what is a champignon, and how do I catch one?
- A few recipes were confusing: is “Alberghetti” the chicken’s surname?
- A few recipes sounded really dirty. You try not to giggle at “Diana’s Clam Dip”.
- The book was put together by a group of women, with no male contributors. I’ve spent hours drooling over things Emeril, Alton Brown, or that scary British guy make on TV, but the book didn’t have a single recipe from a male cook.
- That’s not to say there weren’t any male names in the book, because there were. In fact, there were more men’s names than women’s. Almost all of the contributor’s names are written like Mrs. [Husband's Name] (Wife’s First Name). For example, “Mrs. Jeff Richmond (Tina)” or “Mrs. Bill Bombeck (Erma)”. These women are presumably all from my grandma’s generation, which means they were probably married in the ’50s and, since they’re all from Oklahoma, may have been more traditional than other women in 1982. It was probably natural for them, but it would never occur to me to submit something I made under my husband’s name, with my name in parentheses like an afterthought. (I will say “Mrs. Han Solo (Stephanie)” has a certain ring to it.)
I finally found a recipe that seemed familiar because it was– it was contributed by Mrs. Bob Anderson (Pat), or, as I like to call her, my Grammie. I was going boldly into uncharted kitchen territory, and it kind of felt like an ancestral spirit guide had my back, only my ancestral spirit guide is alive and well and was probably two glasses of wine into the most recent episode of “Modern Family” at the time.
I eased into it by telling myself a recipe is a list of ingredients and a list of instructions, and if there are two things I like, it’s lists and instructions. I had to stop to text my mom, who, as a veterinarian who kept her maiden name, would have stood out in that cookbook.
“I have most of the ingredients for ‘Meatballs Rosé’,” I wrote. “I know it’s in the name, but is the rosé important?”
“It’s pretty important,” she texted back.
“Oh,” I said. “What about the meatballs?”
Hours later (hours), I sat down to eat. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me until I was making them that a meatball is literally a ball of meat. Just a… ball of meat. I was worried the time I’d spent imagining them a little more cow-shaped would hurt my appetite, but they were my balls of meat. I would have eaten them even if they’d been terrible. They weren’t, though. They were pretty good. And you know what?
I liked cooking my grandma’s recipe with my mom’s help. My oven didn’t enslave me. Zombie versions of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn’t burst through the door to drag me to feminist hell. I had a major epiphany while I was eating and thinking about food, and cooking, and body image, and being a girl.
I’m a feminist because I believe women (and men) should be able to do what they want, including contributing to cookbooks under their husband’s name because they like cooking, or becoming veterinarians who keep their maiden names because they like animals, or blogging about meatballs because they like meatballs. As soon as you judge a woman for doing what she wants, you’re the bad feminist.