Culinary Feminism (or) Brown Baggin’ It

A couple of my friends raised a collective eyebrow when they learned that I packed my husband’s lunch. To their credit, they were also old college friends who had seen me through women’s studies classes and unshaved armpits. They seemed surprised I had caved to The Man. If their husbands wanted a lunch, they would have to pack it themselves. One of their men ate out for lunch. Every day. No, my friends did not eagerly jump onto my lunchbox wagon.

My husband could make his own lunch. But in my house, it’s not a matter of caving in to the “white male patriarchal society” and becoming a slave to traditional gender roles. In my house, the kitchen is my domain. Not because that is expected of me, but because I have wholeheartedly claimed it as mine. I am this family’s Iron Chef. I am faster. Stronger. The food quality is (significantly) better. I know exactly what’s in the fridge and where. I do not suffer from the refrigerator blindness that claims thousands of male victims each day. Cooking is my passion, my therapy, and a great source of pride.

And let’s face it, if I watched my husband pack his own lunch, the control freak within would pummel on my insides with a potato masher until I let it out to finish the job. Ask anyone who’s tried to cook in my kitchen.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver discusses her coming from an era of feminists who “recoiled from the proposition that keeping a husband presentable and fed should be our highest intellectual aspiration” We fought so very hard to get into a work force that would prevent us from slaving in the kitchen. But in doing so, we fell into the hands of a toxic convenience food industry that promised to take care of our meals for us. As she puts it, “We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising,…the creative task of molding our families tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange…the Lunchable.”

If selecting and cooking food is an area where I have decided to take charge, I am responsible for doing quality work. I trust my husband to do the same at his job. I’m not going to cheat him out of some decent nutrition in the middle of the day while he works hard for us. I pick fresh fruit, a homemade sandwich, and to his dismay, the dreaded carrot sticks. If he wants to go out or get a li’l sumthin’ at the vending machine, that’s his deal. I do what I can to ensure he eats well. It’s my job. And he deserves it.

And yes, it’s about love. He is not The Establishment, he is my family. And nothing says “I love you” like a warm buttered bagel sitting in the passenger seat next to you on your way to work because you didn’t have time to eat at home. My grateful man has called me from the road to tell me just that.

Financially speaking, it’s the smarter choice. Based on receipts collected when I didn’t pack a lunch, I see that he spends about $5 on breakfast (of the gas station variety) and $8-12 on lunch. That’s $13-17 a day. If he does that, say, three days a week, it would cost us almost $40- 50/week, or $160-200/month. And that’s a conservative estimate. What if I never packed his lunch, ever? It could add up to $240-250/month. Just for lunch. If I cook at home, I can make him a breakfast for about $2.00 or less. For lunch, I’d spend maybe $2 (or less) to $5, tops. That $5 lunch includes a pretty extravagant treat. You do the rest of the math. And I’m sure, you get the picture.

Admittedly, it CAN be a pain. Rapidly foraging in the fridge as he’s running out the door really sucks. You have to plan for lunches. They require some time. There are crabby, rushed mornings when I send him out to face the grind empty-handed. There are moments when I remove my territorial flag from the kitchen just praying for a mutiny. But realistically, making a lunch takes minutes, not hours. So I march forth. He maintains a consistent work ethic at his job, I try to do the same at mine. No matter how busy we are, as Kingsolver suggests, we can make that mental shift, “Approaching mealtimes as a creative opportunity, rather than a chore, is an option”

This fall, I will begin to pack lunches for my new kindergartener. I am not sure what the food quality is at our public school, but I am suspicious. School lunches have a very bad reputation, but that is another essay for another day. I’m darn glad I have the option to decide (for the most part) what goes into his body when he’s away from home, banking on those creative opportunities to keep him nutritionally sound.

Yes, I am a culinary feminist. I exercise my right to provide an alternative to fast food conglomerates. I am not losing my identity in homemaking, I am reclaiming it with every carrot stick, with every passionate pinch of spices. I bring meaning and value and love into my families’ bellies. With a few minutes to a half an hour of preparation, I make sure our food dollar goes into wholesome nutrition and doesn’t sink into a toxic wasteland of crap and empty calories. And making my personal brown bag theories part of a larger social awareness is an intellectual aspiration of mine. It is my right, and in my best interest, to do so.

And that, my friends, is how I stick it to The Man. Join me now in my brown bag crusade.

3 thoughts on “Culinary Feminism (or) Brown Baggin’ It

  1. How do you know your hubby doesn’t sell his lunch to a co-worker every day? And what if he did? And what if he brought two lunches and sold one? And what if he took orders for lunches? You get the picture.

    Ames, this is such a good essay. Your writing is as good as your cooking. I hunger for more.

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