Has Feminism Killed the Art of Home Cooking?

Article excerpt

Byline: by Rose Prince

MEMORIES of food are powerful things. The sight of your mother cooking and the smells and delicious flavours can stick in the mind for ever, ready for reference later when you take up cooking for yourself.

Not everyone enjoys the benefit of this nurturing cookery, but I did, and I owe a great debt to feminine food. I can conjure in an instant the scent of cloves on a roasted, sugared gammon joint as it was taken from the oven, and the sight of my mother's hands, protected by frayed, string oven gloves. We'd eat hot slices of the juicy ham, with flawless mashed potato and a sharp Cumberland sauce.

Oxtail stew, homemade chutney on the table, golden sweetcorn fritters or a spicy kedgeree. This is the base of my food ancestry. We were healthy (despite regular helpings of toffee pudding). When I cook now, there is a busy frequency in my head: the voices of the women who taught me to cook - my mother included.

Their secrets are at the heart of good suppers even now. Thanks to the indelible, delicious influence of these women, I left home understanding how to save money and time, and how to ask a butcher for the right cut of meat.

But, back in those early days as I scraped at those sweet lacy bits that stick to the side of a dish of shepherd's pie, I had no idea that this kind of nurturing cookery was endangered - or that its assassins would be none other than women themselves.

When the feminist voices of the Sixties made home cooking into a symbol of drudgery, they no doubt had the best intentions. Equality in the workplace was a noble cause and a degree of sexual revolution was necessary.

Domestic cooking was chucked aside as an irrelevance, an icon of unfairness to women - which allowed a very eager food industry to leap forward with the convenience-food solution.

Yes, it's feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity.

A recent NHS survey reported that nearly one in three 11-year-olds in England is either overweight or obese. Participation in sports has been dropping since the mid-Nineties, especially among boys - although this has not been helped by the great sell-off of school playing fields.

It all adds up to a health crisis that's costing us billions. So, who can help? The Government or schools? Jamie Oliver? His high-profile campaigns ought to have influence, surely?

YET, though many say they aspire to cook, the consumption of convenience food continues to rise - there was a 300 per cent increase between 1997 and 2008, according to a government report.

It also revealed that there has been a 20 per cent reduction in time spent eating at home, yet our time eating out averages 25 minutes per day - mostly spent in fast-food joints.

And with 70 per cent of women in employment, it cannot please the architects of the gender revolution that we remain the main carers for children. Women possess a greater nurturing instinct than men, yet now find themselves trying to do the feeding part without our great-grandmother skills.

Looking for nurturing role models in cookery programmes leaves me stumped. Most shows are dominated by chefs in competitive mode. Reality shows featuring bullying show-offs are regular fodder that leave aspiring cooks entertained - but scared to death. …