Feminist Foodie: Vetting Food Blogs

In light of my recent photo contribution to Sociological Images #pointlesslygenderedfood, I’d like to talk about how I navigate food/recipe blogs as a feminist. You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard, and yet I live in a world surrounded (literally) by such gendered products as:

100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know--but only if you're hetero, amirite
Found this in a used book store. I did not spontaneously combust specifically so I could snark on this ridiculous book later.
But I did flip the table.
And Mr. Darcy has 10,000 a year, Mr Bennet. Ten. Thousand. A. Year.
mamagwendo_ftogive
Source
Skinny Girl Wine: god why
Go home, marketers, you’re drunk. FYI: white wine has 120 cal. per glass.

When I’m home and looking for recipes to make, I don’t want to run into casual sexism or support companies and blogs that promote gendered eating. Here’s how I avoid these blogs.

A few things to keep in mind:
-I am a person who owns a lot of cookbooks but prefers the ease of cooking with the Internet.

-Most of what I cook is vegetarian. I do eat meat sometimes. Although I enjoy learning to make gluten-free and vegan food to better accommodate the groups for which I sometimes cook, I don’t follow a lot of blogs that specialize in vegan cuisine or meat-heavy cuisine. Your mileage many vary, as there seem to be more self-identified feminist vegan blogs than in other diets.

-As usual, I’ll be using big, monetized blogs as examples because even if a small blogger is a sexist, it seems like a cheap shot.

-I have a selective tolerance for cuteness. Intention and tone are important. I do not like cutesy food writing. I do like cutesy Hannibal.

Source: cannibal-swag.tumblr.com (defunct)
Source: cannibal-swag.tumblr.com (defunct)

The Narrative

I’ve noticed three main types of food “blog”: the recipe collection, the recipe narrative, and writing about food (but not necessarily with recipes).

The Recipe Collection is just that: a large site with either user-submitted recipes, like Allrecipes or Cookpad, or a magazine-style site with mostly staff/contributor-written recipes, like Saveur or Food & Wine. These tend to focus on the recipes, but it’s possible for them to still be sexist, as evidenced by my experiences with Cooking Light.

The Recipe Narrative, which is part of what this blog is, offers a recipe and details of the writer’s life, often tied into the recipe. Some people dislike this format and just want to get to the food. These are the blogs with which I have the most trouble.

Writing About Food: I also like to read and write about food trends. The blogs I like about this topic, like Bitch Beer, tend to have a feminist edge or mission even if the blog is not exclusively about the intersection of gender and food.

My Process

Because I am self-taught and like to try new foods, I often end up searching online for recipes when I can’t find them onthe food blogs I like or don’t have the right ingredients for those recipes. This includes “normal” things like “strawberry-rhubarb pie” and more unusual things like “brownies with coconut oil.”

If I find a recipe that I think will work, I’ll do an internal search of the blog for words like women and gender first. I find that searching for “men” yields results with men as part of a word, like cement  or mentor. I might also try some more unusual search terms like manly or female, or even hormones. [Edit: commenter Elizabeth suggested girl and girly as search terms. These will help detect “teehee, just us girls!” posts.]

The Good

Sometimes when I get pings for the words, it’s just a writer talking about “the women in my family are really awesome,” or “I don’t like gender-reveal parties.” If that’s the case, please proceed. I may not end up following the blog if it’s just one recipe I want, but I can go knowing that I did not support a blog that monetizes sexism. (If I follow the blog, AdBlock gets turned off.)

The Bad

If, on the other hand, I find writing about–and I am making none of these up–man-friendly bean soup (gendered-food appetizer); getting “your man” to eat more vegetables (compulsory heterosexuality with a side of Useless Infomercial Husband Stereotype); twee “just between us girls” chat (small plates of nonbinary erasure, equating men with children, mommy-martyrdom, topped with a drizzle of faux girl power)–I add the blog to a private reference list of Problematic Food Blogs and vow never to return.

This is a variation of my Cajun Chicken Pasta, one of the most man-friendly pastas (and gal-friendly, too!) pastas on my website. -Pioneer Woman

Example: The Pioneer Woman, who promotes this sort of “‘exotic’ food is for ‘girls’ but ‘real men’ don’t need cilantro, just meat and potatoes” mindset that is reductivist, vaguely homo/transphobic, Othering, and just really sad and boring. No amount of butter can make that right. (Just so this is clear it’s not an isolated incident, Food Network Humor can help. EDIT: Here’s a cached version of that article while FNH is down.)

The Inexplicable

What’s worse that the blatant sexism of The Bad is the blogs who want to know “What Do You Think?”. “What Do You Think?” blogs are the worst because they’ll set up something they know is sexist, that could not be interpreted as anything but sexist, and then ask the audience what they think because they’re too scared to take a stand. Yet they don’t cover instances where people might actually have differing valid opinions, like about the best way to balance environmental responsibility and economical eating.

Source: The Kitchn's feature on
Source: The Kitchn’s feature on “Butch Bakery”

Example: The Kitchn: purveyor of recipes and gendered bullshit, like this grossness I discovered when I was introduced to the site. The article is about a bakery with “man flavors” to appeal to men so scared of things deemed culturally feminine that they can’t even eat a goddamn cupcake. But instead of condemning this as the blatantly obvious sexism it is, we get this gem:

Our friend brought the Butch Bakery to our attention today via Twitter and we had a really good laugh while browsing through the site. After our laugh subsided, we realized that there are plenty of men that would be more attracted to a ‘Beer Run’ cupcake (chocolate beer cake with beer-infused buttercream topped with crushed pretzels) than a Red Velvet cupcake.

The cupcakes available from Butch Bakery range in subjects from Sports, Camping, and Tools. Those seem to be rather stereotypical male topics, but they also seem to be just what certain men want. We can totally imagine our boyfriend reaching for a cupcake topped with a camouflage motif over a perfect frosted cupcake with a pink wrapper &mdash whether he knows the ingredients or not.

The Butch Bakery is based in New York City and we can imagine a lot of women selecting this bakery for parties for the men in their life. Heck, we’d use Butch Bakery for ourselves if we were located in NYC. Some of the cupcakes may be masculine in appearance, but not all. Even we’d like to try the ‘Sidecar’, a brandy-soaked lemon cake featuring an orange & white chocolate ganache filling.

Do you think food is gender based?

No, TheKitchn, I don’t, and you need a lesson on privileging the masculine, misogyny, and oh noes the girl cooties. Get out.

Red Flags

For gender-related warning signs, I head toward the About page. If female-identified, does the author primarily define herself as “a wife and mommy”? Plenty of married people with children blog, but if a person sees herself only in relationship to men, then the chances of casual sexism are higher. If male-identified, does the author specialize in “man food” or disparage non-men in any way? Does the author pull a “teehee I’m SUCH a nerd” line like they walked out of a high-school lecture on how to listen to men? (I never want to be a geekdom gatekeeper, but when people make geekery sound like like a coy self-disparaging pick-up line, it gives me pause.) Addendum: commenter Allison adds that the words skinny and guiltless/guilt-free are also warning signs, and I agree.

If you vet your food blogs, you get to decide what’s on your okay list and what’s on your “run screaming for the hills list.” I hope this will help get you started. Smash the patriarchy by patronizing blogs that don’t adhere to subpar food writing!

The blogs in my side bar (uh, bottom bar?) are vetted, and there are more blogs that deal with gender more specifically in Peanut Butter and Gender. For more on gender and food here on I’ll Make It Myself!, see the gender category.

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Caitlin says:

    I found this post really interesting, because I’m one of those people who scours the internet for new recipes to try, but I mostly end up sticking to recipe collections because having to wade through recipe narratives (btw I like how you broke that down) usually means reading stuff that raises my eyebrow. The recipe-narrative blog I’ve come across that I consistently enjoy is Smitten Kitchen, and I’m going to check your side bar for more.

    I find it remarkable how food and its various presentations and marketing are so doggedly gendered, even though in the end it’s all fuel meant to keep our bodies going and maybe give us some pleasure in the process too. Like, slapping a black label and a promise of MOAR PROTEIN will make yogurt “manly” instead of “women’s food.” It’s one of those things where, when you step back and get a bit more of a macro view, it becomes apparent that what you are looking at is completely absurd.

    1. Leah says:

      Thank you for commenting and for sharing the post on Facebook! I also enjoy Smitten Kitchen–it’s interesting because when you run the searches for “manly,” etc, it’s the commenters making remarks about Deb’s child’s outfits or their own households.

      I shared this video on my SNS in the last couple weeks, but I think the marketing strategy of divide and conquer to sell double is well laid out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JDmb_f3E2c
      I mean, why sell unisex yogurt or extra protein yogurt when you can convince a market (or a heterogamous household) that they need two?

  2. Cimmer says:

    THANK YOU for writing this post…!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one doing this sort of vetting process. It’s bad too with fitness/workout blogs…bleh, frustrating.

    #downwiththepatriarchy

    1. Leah says:

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one either! I don’t follow a lot of fitness blogs or healthy living blogs, which I generally find are a hot bed of internalized misogyny and disordered eating. I find myself disturbed and disappointed–though not surprised–when it’s women doing the gender policing. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thanks for writing this post! I really like how you organized it — and you just described nearly everything that irritates me about (what sometimes seems like) half the food blogs out there!

    I had definitely noticed that kind of language on the Pioneer Woman’s site before, but hadn’t picked up on it on The Kitchn. …now I’ll probably be more hyper-aware of this type of thing, and have an even lower tolerance of many food blogs, but there are plenty of great ones out there, so I like the idea of vetting them and weeding some out; that way I’ll have more time to read or experiment with recipes from the ones I really enjoy. (Also I already had some pretty strong feelings & pet peeves about when food bloggers title their recipes “skinny” or “guiltless,” so now I can add the ridiculous gendering of food to that mental list!)

    1. Leah says:

      Oh, I forgot “skinny” and “guiltless”–the worst! I’m all for reducing sugar and making recipes healthier to a reasonable extent, but after many sad and disastrous mug cakes a couple years ago when I lived alone, I am 100% done with “two-ingredient, low cal, low fat omg” Pinterest-bait. I wouldn’t say it’s triggering for me but it makes me want to punch a wall. Skinny Taste, for example, has some great recipes and passed my vetting sweep, but the name makes me cringe.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. elizabeth says:

    What a thought-provoking piece! I completely agree with you on the whole notion of propagating antiquated and harmful stereotypes via recipes, and PW is definitely one of the biggest offenders. I hadn’t seen that Kitchn article (I really only browse it for basic ideas in my reader from time to time) but that is in *such* poor taste. I also fail to understand what it’s doing on a blog that’s supposed to be about home cooking.

    The less said about Skinnygirl the brand, the better, because I may be blinded by rage if I dwell on it for very long.

    Your vetting process naturally piqued my curiosity, so I went back through my archives to use some of your search terms to see what would pop up, and (hopefully) it would pass muster for you: “women” yields a post on the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and nothing comes up for “girls” or “girly,” and “gender” has one post in which I discuss the reverse gender roles apparent in the movie Talk to Her. My husband wrote a piece on the so-called engagement chicken and called for it to be given another, far-less-banal name.

    Found you via Fit and Feminist–definitely adding you to my reader! And now to read your post on brogurt (shudder).

    1. Leah says:

      I should add “girl” and “girly” into the list of search terms–thank you for pointing those out! Those are especially big warning signs. The number of grown-ass women who refer to themselves as girls or, “just a girl who [insert profession/hobby here]” seems astronomical.

      The Kitchn and other “what do you think” blogs thinks that blogging about food and gender will get pageviews because controversy(?!?!1). (A lot of feminists eat food when we’re not off dismantling the patriarchy, too.) However, it seems a combination of ignorance and fear of alienating their audience by pandering to an acceptable, albeit false, sense of gender binary and us vs. them.

      I am certain an Engagement Chicken-esque recipe is in Joy of Cooking. That book has everything. Good on him for calling it out.

      Your blog sounds interesting! I’ll check it out. Enjoy that brogurt post. Just don’t say “brogurt” into the mirror three times.

  5. Amber says:

    I got here via Caitlin’s sharing. And I really love the idea of a feminist vetting of food blogs- no idea how it never occurred to me before. I’ve used Pioneer Woman’s recipes before and cringed through the narrative, as well as several of The Kitchn’s. I have a real attachment to Kitchn, as it’s what I mostly used to self-teach through my bighuge foodie phase. I agree with Caitlin, though- Smitten Kitchen is good stuff. I love her recipes, and she tests everything to the nth degree, so you know it will turn out. I’ll definitely be giving those blogs a look as a starting point, though.

    As far as problematic food blogs go, I live with a man who 100% buys into highly highly gendered food (and everything else) (until dessert). He won’t eat veggies at all, and is Meat and Taters Only. He’ll gladly demolish any and all cupcakes, regardless of decoration, so there’s that, at least. In that respect, sometimes the Man Friendly Food section is/was helpful, cause he sure as hell ain’t gonna change, and whatever, his possible arteriosclerosis. Until I discovered it’s mainly just a pattern of meat/taters/cheese/butter. And sometimes pureed hidden veggies. So I found it helpful, but also immensely frustrating, but then we all also choose our price of admission (tm cpt awkward).

    1. Leah says:

      I’ve found that Joy of Cooking is a really good resource and starting point for home cooks–the recipes are good but the guides to cooking basics, cookware, and ingredients are even better.

      With The Kitchn and some other recipe blogs I used to follow, there was a definite point of realization that I didn’t owe them anything and I shouldn’t make myself feel uncomfortable for no reason.

      As for meat-dairy blogs and ways to make food that your partner (roommate?) will enjoy (without giving him heart problems), I would recommend Frugal Feeding and Closet Cooking. Closet Cooking has like 10 variations on every recipe, which might be a way to make more interesting food you both like. And Kitchen Treaty does carnivore/vegetarian recipes that might be of interest if you eat more vegetarian.

      I regrettably don’t have tips on how to make adults eat vegetables other than to discuss textures and flavors at length, talk about food history, and try new things together. I won’t pretend to know the details of your relationship, but I hope these blogs are helpful.

  6. I have a feeling this comment is going to be all over the place, but as you know (because I’m pretty sure we talked about this before?), this is a topic that really interests me too, and as my blog has grown, I’ve become a little self-conscious about how the things I write might be interpreted. There are some statements that are clearly gendered that I’d simply never make, but there are other things that might be perceived as gendered even though that’s not my intention – “even my husband liked it!” can be a pretty dangerous statement when you’re a vegetarian blogger. :) I wrote something along those lines about a recipe I veganized for my mom and I didn’t think twice about it, but I’d never write that about my husband now because of how some people might interpret it.

    For me, food blogging has been a very feminist thing. I run my own business, I do things on my terms, and that’s an amazing feeling. But I’ve found myself feeling increasingly frustrated lately because it seems that so many food bloggers blog for the opposite reason. When their blogs grow and become businesses, they convince themselves they can’t handle it – they just want to cook, after all! It’s actually made me pull back from the blogging community and question how I fit into it.

    1. Leah says:

      We did, I think!

      I don’t mind reading about others’ families, but I do try to focus on things other than my spouse, partially because it’s usually not relevant, partially because I don’t want to define myself on my relationships, and partially because of bi erasure. For the record, my spouse doesn’t like eggplant, some onions, or some tomatoes, so I’ve had to negotiate moments of “he even liked the thing he doesn’t like” without making it sound like a gender thing.

      Having your own business must be so cool! I get the sense from some bloggers who have “made it big” that they’ll write sponsored posts for products that don’t fit with their schtick or try to pander to the anti-feminist (Infomercial Husband, woe-is-mom) crowd to keep an audience when it was their original ideas and voice that drew people in the first place. You’re doing a hell of a job with Oh My Veggies, if I may say so. The recipes are always great, too!

      1. Ah, yes, the problem with a lot of sponsored posts is that you’re given a message that you need to stick to and the harried mom thing is a a little bit of a trope for those. I took a 6 month break from sponsored posts (doing my first since my hiatus tomorrow!) and one of the reasons why was because it’s so difficult to find advertisers that are willing to let you do your own thing with them. I don’t even have kids, but many of the offers I get are for moms, because the assumption is always “You’re a woman! You have a food blog! You must be a mom too!”

        What I’ve observed is that many women feel that they need to hand off the business side of running their blogs to men as soon as they reach a certain level of success. They remain completely in the dark about decisions that are being made for their sites and not only is that not a downside for them, it appeals to them. It’s weird to me how having a food blog could be this really empowering, feminist thing for me, but for other bloggers, it’s all about reinforcing stereotypes and keeping themselves in this gendered box of “the woman stays home and cooks, the man takes care of money and business.” I’ve been working to actively try to separate myself from this type of blogging for the past year, but when I’m negotiating contracts and such, I still feel like that’s how I get treated – like this is my cute little hobby that happens to make me a little spending money. Aw, precious!

        1. Leah says:

          I’m really glad that you’re choosing your sponsors instead of letting them walk all over you. I see that a lot too–female-identified food bloggers seemed to be marketed to as straight cis (often white) women who are mothers married to straight cismen. I imagine this contributes to the idea of women blogging for “pocket money,” just like the way many women working outside the home were treated by family, friends, and employers from around WWI on. Bleh. Stick it to the man, Kiersten!

  7. Viviane says:

    Interesting post.
    When I write on my blog, I’m not writing for or about a gender at all. I write random stuff of interest to myself that some of readers relate to (not for gender reasons, just stuff that pops into my head lol).
    When I provide recipes (mine is a recipe narrative i guess), I write the recipe for “people who like to cook”, gender neutral.
    I have readers of both genders who follow my blog and across various age demographics and interest groups.

    I suspect I’ll be searching my own site now to see if I have fallen into this trap unintentionally!! OMG ha.

    1. Leah says:

      I think a lot of recipe-narrative blogs are based in the daily lives of the bloggers–how they came to find or love an ingredient; trying to recreate a meal they liked; or just chatting with their audience about their day. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that and no reason to have a particular agenda other than sharing a recipe, but I’ve seen some weird things creep in other than Infomercial Husband trope–homophobia, compulsory heterosexuality (our toddlers are on a date!), fatphobia, transphobia–things that don’t belong anyway, let alone a food blog.

      Sometimes it’s helpful to poke around. For a long time, I had trouble reconciling my gender expression, and I felt like listing off my “feminine” and “masculine” attributes (sometimes involving food) was a way to show the falsehood of gender roles. In reality, calling bullshit on the binary as a whole proved to be a less damaging, more wholistic, trans-inclusive, and better feminist approach. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a learning experience.

      Also, I love this comic about how what is seen about the false binary cannot be unseen: http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2011-10-09

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. Chandelle says:

    I once found a recipe for Manly Strawberry Cake. Manly because there was no frosting (frosting is so feminine you know) and you only needed one bowl to make it (because only women enjoy washing dishes I guess ). I had a good rant about it on Facebook but nobody seemed to understand why it annoyed me so much. So thanks for this.

    1. Leah says:

      You’re very welcome, and thanks for the “Manly Cake” story! That is ridiculous. I make elaborate amateur (very amateur) cakes and I’d be way into a one-bowl, no-frosting dessert.

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