(cross-post from La Marguerite blog)
One casual comment made by a girlfriend during a recent dinner at my house, got me thinking, deep, about women, and food, and politics. "You mean, you made the crust? From scratch?" My friend could not believe I had spent the time, and thought I was "too much". No big deal, I assured her, it had only taken me a few minutes to mix in the flour, salt and butter, and to roll the dough. That's when I realized how far we have strayed from our womanly ways with food.
Somewhere in the midst of first wave feminism, we, women made a bargain with the devil. Tired of being kept in the kitchen, we welcomed with open arms, promises from the food industry to make life more convenient for us. Put away your apron, and your pots and pans, we were told, and get out instead. Take your family to McDonald's, for a complete dinner, or if you are courageous enough, go to the stores for some half baked alternatives. Pre-cut salads, frozen dinners, bottled dressing, whole roasted chicken, canned soups, cake mixes, potato flakes, . . . Open the package, mix it up and you are all set. That felt like progress, and the perfect solution for a hurried evening after a whole day at the office.
Of course there were compromises to be made, such as paying more for our food, and jeopardizing our health and that of our family. Products loaded with too much salt, too much sugar, too much fat, and too many empty calories. Paragraph long labels with ingredients more fit for a science lab than our stomach. Foods purified from their natural vitamins and nutrition. Further compounding the problem, manufacturers conspired to confuse us with misleading claims that we were only too happy to believe. I know firsthand. I spent a good part of my early advertising career trying to convince moms of the wholesomeness of granola bars . . . what a spin that was!
The truth has been catching up with us, however, in the form of record highs in obesity and associated illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. The personal and national costs are astronomical, and demand an overhaul of our entire food system, such as proposed by pioneers of the natural food movement. First was California food's priestess, Alice Waters, then The Omnivore's Dilemma's Michael Pollan, and now Slow Food's Carlo Petrini. Each time, the green, intellectual elite has responded with ardor. Some of that enthusiasm has trickled down to the mainstream, as evidenced by the spread of organics in supermarkets. Deep down, though, not much has changed.
Inspired from the success of Obama's movement, I would like to suggest a different strategy, one that does not come from a few tenors, but that recognizes women as the beholders of the nurturing instinct, and the ones still in charge of most of the food decisions. Let's call it The Women's Food Movement, an effort at organizing the community of women all over, to help them regain confidence in their innate ability to nourish, using simple recipes and affordable, high quality, natural ingredients. Shifting the power away from manufacturers and retailers, back into the hands of women. No fancy words needed. Instead, a narrative anchored in their every day food activities and concerns, e.g. shopping for groceries, deciding on what to make for dinner, exchanging recipes, looking for deals and clipping coupons, worrying about feeding their family healthy food, having limited time for cooking, making ends meet . . .
Most importantly, The Women's Food Movement is about trusting women to hold the answers, collectively, and simply providing them with an organizing community and some tools to turn that knowledge into constructive action. This approach requires a deeper understanding of women's food psychology, than currently displayed in existing solutions. For a beginning of food conversations with women, you may follow the Twitter stream here.
Follow Marguerite Manteau-Rao on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MindDeep