Friday, July 06, 2007

Tasting the Difference

My friend Joyce just sent me a link to such an interesting article. It appears in the Times Online - the London paper - and it explores stylistic and philosophical differences between male and female cooks. The basic idea is that women are more nurturing, and therefore more into simple food that will make people happy, while men are more ego-driven and artistic, so they take an "If I cook it, they should come" approach.

The concept behind the article is not a new one. In college, I remember writing a paper for my American Foreign Policy class (shoutout to Professor Crapol - best history teacher at William & Mary) regarding differences between the sexes in terms of foreign policy beliefs and actions. There's a school of thought that believes that women in government, as nurturers, are more likely to be pacifists and diplomats than their warmongery, conquistador male counterparts. The Times article is basically about the same thing, only looking at the butter, not the guns.

In all honesty, I just don't know where I stand on this topic. On one hand, I'm a big believer in acknowledging the differences between the sexes - men and women don't think or act the same way and I do believe that biology plays a role. And both in terms of cooking and foreign policy, there are certainly examples that back up the woman-as-nurturer position.

But on the other hand, something about the whole discussion sticks in my craw. For one thing, I can't shake the feeling that there's a tinge of reverse-misogyny at work here: women are presented as good, caring nurturers who do for others, while the men involved are ego-driven and self-centered. I don't think that's fair.

My other hesitation about the arguments is that they just don't apply to my own kitchen - or my mind. Not that I don't care about my guests having a good time or enjoying their dinners, but as I'm sure I've mentioned before, when I'm preparing a meal for friends, a healthy part of my enjoyment comes from the feeling of creation - and from the praise that goes along with creation. Similarly, I would imagine that if I was, say, a member of Congress (a job I would never, ever want), I'd be a little more "send in the Marines and git-r-done" than a lot of the men.

There are exceptions, of course, to every rule, and maybe I just fall into that category. It's difficult, though, to honestly evaluate an argument when you're possibly outside the norm. And of all of the food and cooking research that I've been privy to (and it is a lot), the vast majority of the research has been female-focused (food marketers just care more about women's attitudes and behaviors because they make the majority of the food shopping decisions in any given household.) As a result, I've seen profiles of a fair number of ego-driven, artistic foodie women and at the same time, I have very little understanding of what makes the male culinary mind tick.

Joyce mentioned that in her own life, she tends to cook more recipes written by female chefs, but when she eats out, she's drawn to the men - possibly seeking out something more exciting and complex than what she personally wants to deliver at home. That's something interesting, too, but again, something hard for me to evaluate in my own life...partly because there are just so many more male chefs than female.

But conclusion or no, the article gave me something interesting to think about, and to watch for as I cook and eat out. Because everyone knows that I need more ways to analyze my food.

1 comment:

j said...

Sorry to leave this as a comment, but I couldn't find an e-mail address. I'm the new moderator for the Baltimore forum of the food board Don Rockwell ( I would like to invite you to join and perhaps post your comments about restaurants in the Baltimore area. I'm really hoping to build the Baltimore portion of the forum to be as vibrant as our DC one.


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