I think food blogs are great. They highlight how food is connected to the lives of the people cooking. Food doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s easy to lose sight of the ways food is inextricably connected to the world in which we live. Food bloggers write in a format that makes the reader recognizes the connection. Deb Perelman didn’t just make a recipe for a cake, she made a lightly spiced apple cake to keep it delicious for other kids, but to make her own gingerbread-loving son happy. It can feed 40-50 people, but has directions for a single layer sheet cake, cupcakes, and an eight inch round, all of which Perelman has made for different occasions. There are reasons the food is the way it is. Food bloggers remind us that food is adaptable to our environment, wants, and needs. If those conditions exist, why not talk about them. Food bloggers, primarily, are women, many of whom have families. They pair the recipes with any tips and tricks they discover while making the dish and write about how the food factored into their life. Who ate it? What did they think? What might you do differently next time you make this?
The problems, at least in my opinion, are not food blogs, but the apologies they are all too often forced to make. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen cooks incredible food. Whenever her recipes are more complicated than usual, there’s generally an excuse in the introduction. Perelman often claims insanity when she has done something extraordinary, like making seven-layer cookies, goldfish, wheat thins, or pop tarts at home; “seven-layer cookies are, in short, crying out to be made at home. If you’re marginally insane. And, well, ahem, here I am.” It’s not a humble brag so much as an apology for the skill and attention paid to the process. Perelman spent some time with these cookies and has put thought into how they could be made better next time. She explains her mistakes, which she is not scared of broadcasting, and possible solutions to them all. Her recipes are sometimes complicated, but she will give you fair warning, and usually apologize for the fussiness, too. The same can be said for Ree Drummond of Pioneer Woman. In one of her recipe posts, in which, you know, she instructs the reader on how to make something, as a recipe should, she apologizes for being bossy. Multiple times. She knows her way around the kitchen, can easily cook for a crowd, and is a master of sheet cake. Much of her food focuses on convenience and, interestingly, gender roles and norms. She takes pains to differentiate between cowgirl and cowboy food. Recipes labelled cowgirl food, as one might imagine, are filled with vegetables, kale, chicken, salads, and rice. Cowboy food, however, is marked by bacon, beef, and cheddar, often organized into burgers and rarely presented with any vegetables. Drummond makes sure to leave all grilling to her husband. Don't doubt her though; she knows how to make a mean smash burger. She recently posted a recipe for chocolate mug cake and advises that you should split it with “a friend or loved one,” justifying the consumption of rich food by making it for someone else, and then not actually eating much of it.
If you look at the FAQ of most food blogs, they are often forced to include an answer to the innocent question of “god, that’s so much food!! what do you do with it all!?!!” Almost always, in the preface to the recipe the reader is informed that the food was shared with many, made for a specific person, and if it wasn’t, well Oh dear me, aren’t I bad, isn’t this indulgence a shame!
No, it’s not. No food is guilty of anything.
Excess in food can be seen in two different ways; scale and artistry. Women are generally not allowed to engage food in these ways, or at least can’t do it easily. The only time it is appropriate for a woman to create a ton of food is when a ton of people are eating it. She dare not consume more than her share. Unless, of course, she is being forced to do so. As is the case in webseries Epic Mealtime. The series asserts that men are most definitely allowed to create and consume absurd amounts of food. Hosted by several men, many of whom are bearded, the show is a profile of hyper-masculine obsession with plenty. The show represents hyper masculinity. Everything remotely feminine is removed. In an episode titled “Ice Cream Lasagna,” in which, yes, they make a layered ice cream dessert that they couldn’t bare to call cake (“Some people may call this lasagna a cake, but to them I say, ‘shut the fuck up’”) or sundae, they remove the strawberry layer from a bucket of neopolitan ice cream and let the pink abomination melt away in the sink. When women do appear on the show, they are made uncomfortable or highly sexualized. At a drive-thru window one host asks the female employee how much she can eat in one sitting. Though she is visibly uncomfortable, the host continues to ask questions, trying to define how she should act while condemning her current behavior; “you never have slumber parties with your girlfriends and see how fast you can eat a massive meat-log or something?” The employee is caught in a paradox, no matter how she acts, or eats, she will be admonished for her conduct and appetite. Additionally, by using the phrase slumber party, the hosts makes the woman childish. Most disturbingly, rape and molestation are used in everyday conversation, like talking about going out for pizza the night before, in the show, normalizing these acts and failing to recognize the trauma they cause.
Epic Mealtime is scale pushed to its extreme. Women would never be able to make this type of web series, let alone amass the kind of notoriety and success that Epic Mealtime has seen (they have their own TV show now). It would be considered selfish and disgusting. Instead women rarely appear in the show. When they do, they do not say anything, are generally hypersexualized, and eating, or worse, forced to eat, the food. They are props used in the series, playing only passive roles in this food narrative.
As far as artistry goes, women chefs exist, many of whom are highly acclaimed (think Dorie Greenspan, April Bloomfield, Christina Tosi, Julia Child, and Vivian Howard). And yet, they’re often seen as women chefs. Rarely chefs that are women. The story is different for men. Men can cook and they do not have to be cooking for the nourishment or celebration of others. Instead, they can cook for pure artistry. This means that René Redzepi (God bless him) is allowed to cook without having to defend his food in the same way that a women would have to. He creates incredibly intricate, unique dishes that cannot be recreated en masse. It’s not even a question of practicality, but possibility; he forages for food and often doesn’t have enough ingredients to create a dish more than a handful of times. What he is doing is beautiful, no doubt, and he takes such care with his food. While he is taking care with his food that will end up being for others, it is also obvious that he is doing this, in part, for himself, for his restaurant, on his own terms.
But a woman is expected to be feeding others when she cooks. She can take care with her food, but she is taking care for the benefit of others. Food bloggers have to explain and justify why they are making a dish, especially for whom it is being made. They are allowed to enjoy the food themselves, but primarily it is made for someone else. If not, an apology is inevitable. It is labelled an indulgence or guilty pleasure, but never a mini chocolate cake. It’s a mini chocolate cake. For you. All for you. No one else. Enjoy it!
Seared Steak and Potatoes for a Single Woman
I made it because I wanted it.
- As much Skirt Steak as you want
- Drizzle Olive Oil
- Tablespoon Butter
Heat pan (preferably cast iron or stainless steel) on high. Add olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Once the oil begins to smoke turn heat down to medium-high. Add butter. Salt and pepper both sides of the steak. Place steak in pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Allow to rest before serving yourself.
- However Many Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes You Wish to Eat
- Fresh Italian Parsley
- Tablespoon Butter
Boil water. Add potatoes and allow to boil for 20 minutes. Drain water. Add tablespoon of butter to pot, and return potatoes to pot. Turn heat to low and allow potatoes to become golden brown. In the last 30 seconds of cooking, add whole leaf flat parsley and a pinch of salt. Serve warm.
Enjoy. By yourself.
- Davidauskis, April. “How Beautiful Women Eat: Feminine Hunger in American Popular Culture.” Feminist Formations 27 (2015): 167-189.
- Gill, Rosalind. “Post Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (2007): 147-166.
- Neuhaus, Jessamyn. “The Way to a Man’s Heart: Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s.” Journal of Social History 32 (1999): 529-
- Salvio, Paula M. “Dishing It Out: Food Blogs and Post-Feminist Domesticity.” Gastronomica 12 (2012): 31-39.
- Perelman, Deb. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. (New York: Knopf, 2012).
- Tosi, Christina. Momofuku Milk Bar. (New York: Potter, 2011).
- YouTube. “HARLEY’S GIRLFRIEND IS FED UP!!! - Epic House Ep. 9.” Posted December 25, 2015. Accessed February 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gpz6Y1OJ6k.
- YouTube. “Ice Cream Lasagna-Epic Meal Time.” Posted August 11, 2015. Accessed February 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ntMcSzzrPQ.
- YouTube. “The Black Legend-Epic Dessert Time.” Posted December 28, 2010. Accessed February 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaKcl0Qg13o.