One day during the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge, as I was dashing between meetings and wondering how on earth I was going to create an evening meal composed of local ingredients within budget with almost no time to shop, this thought flashed through my head: this whole eat local concept is so not friendly for women who work.
I’m a woman who works, but I have an edge in that I work at home (most of the time), and can therefore dash out to my local farmer’s market on a Thursday morning without having to get permission from the Boss. I can put beans on the stove to simmer in the mid-afternoon. I can flip through my cookbook collection when I need a break from the keyboard. I have the luxury of choosing between my corner mega-grocer and other, healthier options.
My flexible schedule is no small advantage when it comes to putting locally grown meals on the table (heck – even meals on the table at all), a fact that becomes crystal clear on weeks when I suddenly have more projects than I can handle, and What To Make For Dinner is the very last thing on my mind.
If eating local is still a challenge for me, what about women who, voluntarily or not, log 8 to 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, in an office or hospital or courtroom? What about women who, in addition to working long hours and commuting back and forth, also have children at home who need love and affection and help with homework? What about women who, in addition to work and kids and a significant other, also think it might be nice to hit the gym two or three times a week? Or have a social life? Or read a book or take a judo class or become a better photographer?
How do those women get it all done?
How does the laundry get washed and folded? How do books get read and dental appointments made? How on earth do these same women have time to plan balanced meals, let alone meals composed of organic, in-season ingredients… grown locally?
I wonder. I wonder if the slow-organic-local food movement is truly sustainable for and friendly to the larger community of women.
I wonder if our little blogsphere sits here debating the provenance of our nectarines while the larger community of women – most of whom have no time for surfing blogs, let alone writing one – head out to work feeling more guilty than ever before, as the mountain of expectations and unattainable standards grows ever higher.
Can we call ourselves feminists (simply defined here as people who desire the equality of all women, everywhere) and still suggest that an ideal dinner consists of handmade ravioli and slow-simmered marinara from vine-ripened, hand-picked tomatoes and a salad composed of vegetables that (let’s be honest) are Not Available at Safeway?
Ladies, when we cluck our tongues at drive-through lanes and packaged convenience food, we are forgetting that convenience has been our friend. The fact that women hold more executive positions than at any other time in history, and can freely choose any career path they like is in no small part due to the prevalence of supermarkets and the availability of easy-to-prepare foodstuffs.
I realize that there are many partners/husbands/co-parents out there who take an active part in meal planning, grocery shopping and dinner-making, but in most households, the question of What’s for Dinner? still falls squarely on the female half of the equation.
Barbara Kingsolver took a year of her life to grow a garden to feed her family, and proceeded to write a beautiful book about the experience, but what if she had done the same thing twenty-five years ago, near the start of her writing career? My guess is that such a book (if it made it to publication at all, which is doubtful), might not have had such a receptive audience, but more importantly, all of that weeding and watering and meal-planning might have distracted her from the hard, lonely work of learning to write as wonderfully as she does today.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is going to write,” and I would further argue that a woman must have convenient food preparation options in order to be truly independent. The relative convenience of our grocery system has been an invaluable partner in the quest for equality and choice. The fact that a woman can create a meal to feed her family with a package of pasta and a jar of ready-made sauce is part of the reason why that same woman can pursue a full-time career of her choosing.
Yesterday’s June Cleaver is today’s race car driver or pharmacist or lawyer. That's a marvelous thing. The rub is that our relatively newfound independence has a price. We have choices, but we also have a series of increasingly complicated dilemmas, one of which is how much time, energy and care we should devote to the food that ends up on our dinner plates.
I have five magnificent younger sisters. Whenever I think about these issues, I run through an imaginary Sister Test: what would I tell my sisters, if they asked for my advice?
Would I tell my whip-smart mortgage broker/real estate agent sister not to pursue her career because her crazy hours will not allow her to make dinner from scratch most nights of the week (never mind that she has virtually zero interest in cooking anyway)? Would I encourage my massage therapist/aspiring police officer sister not to take extra classes on Saturdays, since doing so would mean that she would miss the farmer’s market?
Immediate answer: Hell, no!
Second answer: No. Maybe. Well... it's complicated.
It’s hugely, intensely, insanely, complicated.
Too complicated, in fact, for a single blog post.
After weeks of puzzling over this, I have reached a few conclusions, some of which are contradictory, and none of which are truly conclusive. They’re not really conclusions then, just observations. In my next post, I’ll share some of those.
** I purchased the illustration above from iStockphoto, a fabulous online collection of stock photography.