I don’t know whether the pathetic practice of gendering food, cooking, and eating appalls me more as a feminist or a vegan. (Fortunately, I don’t have to choose.) I saw an article today – “Man Aisle Pops Up in New York City Market with Beer, Barbecue, and Cereal”* - reminding me not just of past campaigns encouraging an anxious, homophobic masculinity but also of a piece I saw on the Today Show last week that’s been nagging at me since.
The introduction to a short clip with Bobby Flay talking about some basic kitchen tools “for men” – when Bobby Flay is the least annoying element of your segment, you should know you have a problem – managed to work in just about every tired trope about men, cooking, and eating imaginable. The segment opens with the announcement that
“the kitchen is quickly becoming the new man cave.” Manly music and horror film lighting introduce…a knife being sharpened, as Savannah Guthrie breathlessly narrates. “They’re sharpening their tools and preparing for battle.” A knife cutting through animal flesh. “There will be blood.” A lit burner. “There will be fire.” “And of course” – for no reason at all – “bacon.” …“as men everywhere invade the kitchen.” Bloody hatchet. Giant manhand grinds with mortar and pestle.
‘50s film of a woman in the kitchen, accompanied by dainty music. Music changes to something coded as rock as we learn that men are cooking more meals. Cut to Daniel Duane, author of How to Cook like a Man: “There’s something that really appeals to the male mind about the primal nature of cooking.” Duane in kitchen with his daughters: “There was this choice: diapers, knives. That wasn’t a very hard decision for me.” [laughs]
Guthrie recounts that the book “documents his cooking obsession, from duck confit to bone-in prime rib.” He’s shown from below with blow torch. “Duane has his very own blow torch, a meat locker, and a small arsenal of knives.” Duane: “The kitchen’s definitely become my man cave.”
Clip from Iron Chef. Guthrie: some say the trend began with cooking shows, and “tuning in to watch celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay command the kitchen.” “And with more men playing chef at home, cookware retailers are sitting up and taking notice. Because, after all, if there’s anything men simply can’t get enough of, it’s gadgets.” Cookware store dude: “We like to think of ourselves as a hardware store for people who like to cook.”
Man-oriented cooking sites “are catering to men who aren’t afraid to don an apron and dice some shallots, masters of their own personal kitchen stadiums.”
Time for Flay and his manly kitchen gadgets. Guthrie reassures the audience that his apron isn’t too frilly. No reason to worry, as Flay assures everyone that it’s like his cooking uniform. Cooking “really is kind of like a sporting event,” he says, a bit before he pulls a big-man knife from her testosteronically challenged lady hand, informing her that she doesn’t look ready to cut into a steak…
That’s enough for me.
It has everything: violence, death, competition, gadgets, hardware, domination, the “male mind,” alleged primal drives, weapons, war, disparagement of women's food preparation (which doesn’t involve knives or fire, I guess – prepped food is flown in by sweet bluebirds),... Is there a single sexist trope this thing missed?
*Ridiculous: “Called 'The Man Aisle', the space stocks stereotypically male items like beer, cereal, soda, beef jerky, hot sauces, barbecue sauces, condoms, and oh, Chock full o'Nuts Coffee.” (The author, to her credit, closes on a suitably sarcastic note.)