I submitted an abstract for the Women's Studies Association (NZ) conference in November which has just been accepted:
Back to the Kitchen: Middle class women’s role in a new social movementWhile I was intending to be a bit controversial with the title, the person in charge of submissions had a few concerns:
Despite the second wave of feminism’s emphasis on freeing women from the confines of domesticity, a new generation of middle class women are now reclaiming the kitchen in an effort to take control of their lives and their health as well as the health of their families. Modern industrially processed food has reached the point where it has become a political issue in terms of its indigestibility, negative health affects and unethical production - unjustly harming communities, the land and animals. Not only are these middle class women empowering and educating themselves and changing their own lifestyles and diets, armed with PCs and the internet, they are sharing what they know through weblogs, producing information and networking to form online communities. This presentation will look at the transformation of the kitchen as a place of confinement to a place of empowerment, explore the role of middle class women in this new social movement and draw parallels to other historical social movements that middle class women have been influential in such as the anti-apartheid movement and the US civil rights movement.
While your abstract is accepted, I do feel I should warn you that you are likely to receive some interrogation of your argument. A return to the kitchen on the bases you outline, while perhaps experienced by women as freely chosen and even 'empowering', could also be a response to new pressures on middle class women to be 'good' mothers who actively protect their families from external 'dangers' posed by processed food and other environmental contaminants - and thus is not dissimilar to 1950s moral panics about physical (and social) hygiene - 'dirt danger'. So middle class women are called upon to be more concerned than ever about their family's and children's health, diet, and wellbeing, as well as the planet's wellbeing, with a new set of expectations and disciplinary practices emerging to replace the old. At the same time, such a choice fits with contemporary neo-liberal requirements in terms of taking full responsibility for the care of the self as a condition of citizenship. So in these two senses, the return to the kitchen might not necessarily be progressive or emancipating, or at least has a dual aspect to it which may simultaneously entail hegemonic recuperation. You might also want to see this link:
This raises some interesting points about feminism and choice. While many food bloggers probably wouldn't identify as feminists, from what I have read there is a sense of agency in their chosen lifestyles and the blogging process. There is also recurring conflict that occurs between the second wave feminist emphasis on leaving behind traditionally female roles and, particularly on participating in skilled, full-time, paid employment. This was a particularly moving blog post on this topic from the perspective of a food blogger:
(Note the religious overtone which is common in US based nourishing blogs)
I would agree that taking full responsibility is a typically neoliberal thing, which is probably why this movement is common in largely neoliberal countries - it is also an example of rebellion against the corporate domination of neoliberal countries.
From my perspective, feminism - or any human rights based movement is about freedom and choice. It is possible that these women are still shackled by patriarchy or pressured by moral panic, perhaps some are more than others, and that is something worthy of investigation, but social pressure applied from the other side has the potential to be just as disempowering. From my interpretations of the perspectives of these women, there is a sense of empowerment in knowing what is in their food, where it came from and that the processes involved in preparing it to make it more nourishing. There is a creative outlet in cooking and a sense of sharing and community in blogging as well as the satisfaction of contributing to the growing body of alternative nutritional information available on the internet. There is the sense of security in feeding their families and themselves safe, healthy food.