As a self-proclaimed feminist with aspirations to be an organic farmer, a farmer’s market frequenter, and an English major finishing up a thesis on the inherent patriarchal power of language, the title “Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pig?” really caught my eye.
The article by Emily Matchar came out this week, and addresses a recent surge in a new kind of domesticity–a domesticity which has been cited as one of the most significant contributors to female oppression since the 1970s. In line with writers like Betty Friedan and Andrea Dworkin, women realized their boredom in their main roles as homemakers and many empowered themselves to go work jobs of their own, like their breadwinning husbands. This move, of course, meant women were often more absent from the kitchen and when men didn’t replace them, health problems today like childhood obesity and the rise of the fast food industry came to be–at least, according to upper-middle class food critics, right-wing journalists, and other celebrity-status writers. To them, women are to blame for widespread American health problems.
This more recent kind of domesticity has seen a return to what is deemed “wholesome” foods–that which is organic, home-canned, picked fresh, or best yet, grown in the backyard. Matchar points out that sales in bestselling books and brand new magazines on DIY agriculture and cooking have risen immensely within the last several years and Whole Foods had its best quarter ever in its 32 year history just in the beginning of 2012.
In a return to domesticity and the home, are women allowing themselves to be oppressed in this sphere all over again? Or are they finding ways to empower themselves through their domestic work in ways that women of past generations could not? Personally, my own mother has told me horror stories of her childhood dinners served by her stay-at-home mom, although not much changed as a result. Dinners such as boxed macaroni and cheese and canned green beans were not only considered fully acceptable in my own childhood home, but were served frequently, by my own stay-at-home mom.
This is not a cry for bygone health opportunities (nor pointing fingers at my past generations), but rather a point that it was the food industry corporations and commercialism that corrupted American perceptions of food and health–not the suburban women who were subjected to their influences in the grocery store aisles. As much as Pollan’s work has inspired me, I disagree whole-heartedly with his finger-pointing at women for America’s health problems.
Graduating within a few short weeks, I am fully aware that I am from now on responsible for my own food and health decisions. Unfortunately, however, my budget probably won’t allow for farmer’s market shopping for a few years. For those who aren’t of the upper middle class demographic, such health options may never be feasible. Education and options for healthy lifestyles should not be limited to the few. And women most certainly cannot be blamed for society’s health problems. In fact, according to this article, they may very well be the fuel for their solutions.
By Kathleen Shannon, Class of 2013