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:
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.
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.
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.]
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.