A few days ago I came home, flipped on my computer, and found a maelstrom of controversy in my twitter timeline. Author Amanda Marcotte, who writes for several blogs regarding politics and feminism, had written a piece for Slate entitled, “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.” Slate tweeted her article as “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Dinner. “
Because I am a fiscal conservative, and follow many conservatives, my Twitter feed was densely populated with criticism for Ms. Marcotte’s post. I felt some of it was just mean. Although I work full-time in an office, I feel my true calling is in domesticity. I love most things domestic: Sewing, cooking, canning, parenting, gardening, etc.
I didn’t know anything about Ms. Marcotte, so I did some reading about her and read her twitter timeline. I realized we probably didn’t have much in common. However, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I read her post – anticipating I would want to jump on the “home-cooked dinner is best for the family” bandwagon.
And then, I surprised myself. I agreed with her.
I probably do not agree with Ms. Marcotte on very many things, but I respect her opinion and completely support her right to state it. My own mother was a 60’s and 70’s career woman, and I wished for a June Cleaver or Carol Brady-type mom. This isn’t to say I didn’t love her to pieces ; I just wished I didn’t go home to an empty house after school. While my mother loved to bake, and was brilliant at it, the home-cooked family dinner was a daily struggle. Undercooking food was her specialty, and I am a little surprised that we didn’t fall ill from bloody chicken or pink pork chops.
My father and I didn’t help the situation. We were critical, picky, and often unappreciative. To me, the grass was always greener at my friends’ homes, where the stay-at-home moms served up after-school snacks, milkshakes, and spaghetti for dinner with home-made sauce.
My mother-in-law also would have gladly given up cooking dinner. An aspiring writer, she came home from her office job each day, reheated a pot of coffee, and sat at her typewriter. With a sigh, she would stand up around 5 p.m. and make the prescribed dinner: Meat, a starch, a green vegetable, a yellow vegetable, and a salad. She burned food frequently; the family used to joke that the smoke alarm doubled as the dinner bell.
Ms. Marcotte, in her post, cited a study from North Carolina State University, which concluded that
“Time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials . . . The social message was that “home-cooked meals have become the hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen,” but found that as much as they wanted to achieve that ideal, they didn’t have the time or money to get there . . . Even for middle-class working mothers who are able to be home by 6 p.m., trying to cook a meal while children are demanding attention and other chores need doing becomes overwhelming. “
When I googled “Is eating together as a family best for families?” I found an overwhelming 23,800 items. I read several of the articles and have to agree that while eating together as a family is for the best, that does not equate to actually cooking the damn dinner, yourself.
For me, cooking is relaxing and creative. For others, I recognize that it’s a dreaded chore. Personally, I despise ironing, and look forward to the day I can pitch my iron out the window. If you told me that ironing was the key to bringing my family closer, I would be depressed, angry, and resentful if they didn’t appreciate my efforts at starched collars or perfect pleats. Using that analogy, why would people who don’t enjoy cooking be frowned upon?
But, alas, they are scolded – and from high places. First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us last March that “Plenty of meals can be pulled together in less than 30 minutes for cheaper than takeout.”
I sincerely wish my mother, and mother-in-law, had lived to experience the advent of bagged salads, seasoned meats, pre-chopped vegetables and aisles of celebrity sauces. How grateful they would have been to have had the extra time for preparing lesson plans, writing magazine articles, or relaxation with a good book.
Having worked with a great many women over the years, I have repeatedly seen how hard they strive to be good people, wives, and mothers. They work hard, then run to after-school activities, and help with homework. Picking up McDonald’s, or ripping open a bag of Birds-Eye for family dinner, does not diminish them in my eyes.
I am grateful that my daughter has a boyfriend who loves to cook. I am fortunate to be married to a man who knows how to “deal with dinner” when I don’t feel like cooking.
If you love to cook, and have the time, great. Family mealtime is a bonding experience. I just hope no one minimizes enjoyment of your family meal by insinuating it cannot be had without chopping, boiling, or stirring.