Women and Their Never-Ending Romance with Cooking

Has the title caught your attention?

Since earlier times, ‘cooking’ has always been a woman’s job, at least in India. ‘The woman of the house’ was always envisioned as one who spends her time in the kitchen juggling with the cooking paraphernalia, with ease that too, stirring and ladling simmering curry to perfection, and knowing her way through the right quantity of oil, spice, and salt. The one who can make round Rotis. The one who knows how to get the right flavor of Sambar. The tie of the relationship between women and cooking has been so firm and tight in the minds of the people that even in the 21st century, a time when we brag about technological advancement, innovation, and modernization, it remains unbroken. Whether women ‘prefer’ to be in the kitchen or not, a lot of times is out of the equation.

Is it right that we pile the pressure of a whole family's nutrition needs on one woman? Apart from her child does she owe anyone else the responsibility to feed them? Aren't we all responsible and capable to feed ourselves?

— Food for thought

Some beg to differ, at least in recent times. Before I could jot down personal experiences, let me give you a glimpse into my life:

I grew up in a household where, fortunately, I wasn’t expected to lend myself to the societal conditioning which dictated terms regarding the upbringing of an ‘Ideal woman’. As of now, I suck at cooking, and I am not very proud of it. But I was in a position where I had the liberty to revolt against the concept of women having to cook for the entire family (but this is a pure privilege, which I understood only later as I grew up and expanded my knowledge about society I live in). My mom being a home-maker, did spend long hours in the kitchen. But she did it because she ABSOLUTELY LOVES to cook (which also means I eat super delicious food without having cooked for once in my life so far). Of course, she did think that I’d be better off if I learned to cook. But that concern had arisen considering the (mostly inevitable) possibility that I will have to move out to live on my own and look after my own needs, and not because I will be put in a position where I’ve got to cook for a family.

A housewife is not only expected to be a cook but also becomes the family's dietitian. She also becomes the keeper of heirloom recipes and traditions whilst without them, we wouldn't have any culinary treasures left.

— Food for thought

Also, those are some reasons why writing about this is something close to my heart. Because the concept of women and cooking has played a major role in my life and upbringing, you see?

Now, here are some cases I’ve witnessed that beg to differ from the norm:

The first time I had lunch at my best friend’s place after I went there straight from school- it was her dad who had cooked and served the both of us. I later learned that it is her dad who cooks at home half the time, when her mom is out for work.

My sister and her husband work together in the kitchen, even if the task is something as simple as boiling water.

A LOT (way too many) of my male friends are great cooks!

My brother makes DELICIOUS pastries.

So, evidently, I am surrounded by several men who cook. (Do you also see why I didn’t have the ‘need’ to cook?)

When women were required to stay home during the earlier times and men would go out to work and earn, it made perfect sense that the woman would take care of the household chores and would spend her time cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. And Indian cuisine, like any other dedicated style of cuisine, isn’t something that can be mastered in a day. We have a rich history associated with cooking. As a result of vast regional geography, culture, and vegetation, we have a vast culinary landscape. Simply our spices alone could fill entire racks. Considering this broadness of its character, it is definitely understandable that the woman of the earlier times was in a position where she had to spend long hours in the kitchen cooking and experimenting with food in order to understand and serve better food to her family. Cookbooks were passed down through generations like heirlooms. Such was the importance of cooking and the cook within an Indian family. But over the years, the role of the woman in society has evolved. Yet, in a lot of situations still, an ‘ideal’ woman is expected to know how to cook well for her family. So much so those achievements in other areas of her life are often overlooked and underrated.

So isn't it right that we call women Food Keepers then? They are the FOOD KEEPERS of a house, of a society, of a civilization.

What has this lead to?

We began manufacturing and training women who could take on more weight than their shoulders could bear and pretend to carry it with ease (and a smile). Perhaps some of them do carry it with ease but that doesn’t justify or support the weight of responsibilities and expectations being thrust upon them. Not to forget a slightly modified version of the age-old saying which goes, “The woman of the house cooks” to “the woman of the house knows to balance both work life and cooking for the family”.

A lot of our mothers are living examples of this culture. In fact, this conditioning is so ingrained within the minds of Indian people, a country of matrimonial ads and websites, that it is an implied requirement that the bride has adequate knowledge about cooking. And this has been a major reason why a majority of cooks in the Indian household are portrayed to be women. The culture demands it in a way. Of course, one could argue that men cook too. A number of professional Indian cooks are men. But cooking for men is reserved to be a profession; not a regular household activity or a chore. The chores are reserved for women, even now; at least in a majority of the situations.

Cooking is a life skill, and so, has to be learned by people irrespective of the gender they identify themselves with. Perhaps I simply got lucky for having had the choice to refuse to step into the kitchen. I am thankful to my mom for not having forced it on me to learn to cook, like a lot of young girls still are, and to the upbringing that taught me that men and women of the house are equals and so, have equal responsibilities. I was in a position where I could let my little brother learn for himself the importance of cooking, of the necessity to serve good food on our plates, all while still not having learned to cook and not being given ugly stares or raised eyebrows for it.

Now perhaps, I can begin by learning to make tea. Not because it’s a woman’s job, but because it’s a life skill.

I can already see the younger generation break stereotypes. I can already see the men of the younger generation understand that cooking is as much a man’s job as it is a woman’s. Progress is paving the way to the new and desirable. And I can proudly say it out loud- Yes, the men of my generation can cook!