Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table

By Jackson, Kathy Merlock | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2007 | Go to article overview
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Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table


Jackson, Kathy Merlock, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table Sherrie A. Inness. New York: Palgrave, 2006.

Sherrie A. Inness has emerged as a leading scholar in the areas of girls' culture and food culture. Her latest work, which explores the issues of race, gender, and class in American cooking, provides another substantive study in popular culture.

Inness notes that cookbooks, although important to readers and booksellers, have been marginalized by scholars, in part because of their connection to women; however, they are anything but trivial. As Inness observes, "Cookbooks and other cooking literature are rich, complex texts that reveal a great deal about society and its changing mores, not just culinary ones" (2). In particular, cookbooks, which are primarily written by and used by women, contain important messages regarding gender roles. Given this, Inness begins her study in the 1950s, coinciding with changes in women's lives in post-World War II society. She explains the connection between Betty Friedan's ground-breaking work, The Feminine Mystique (1963), and Peg Bracken's two popular cookbooks, The I Hate to Cook Book (1960) and Peg Bracken's Appendix to The I Hate to Cook Book (1966). These books underscore women's dissatisfaction with domestic life and dominant social values, which Friedan called "the problem that has no name." In The I Hate to Cook Book Bracken expressed with humor the same sentiment: "This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day" (qtd. in Inness 67). Bracken cautioned homemakers that they did not have to spend all day cooking but could prepare good meals quickly, often using convenience foods, and still have time for themselves and their other interests.

Inness also devotes an entire chapter to convenience foods, which changed the way Americans thought about cooking. Cooking literature encouraged women to use convenience foods so that they could be more modern, express their own creative desires, both in and out of the kitchen, and speed up preparation time so that they could do other things. According to Inness, "convenience food literature made it clear that women should develop their own interests; this was a small step toward second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, which emphasized that women had to cultivate themselves as individuals who possessed concerns other than purely domestic ones" (19).

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