This morning I opened the New York Times Dining & Wine section to find a Very Irritating Food Story called “‘Store Bought’ Spoils the Potluck Spirit” staring me in the face. In it, writer Jennifer Steinhauer takes her fellow parents to task for bringing (gasp!) non-homemade items to school bake sales and potlucks. Though she had some valid points, the article was, in general, utterly tone deaf and annoying in the exact ways that make people claim foodies are elitist.
First there’s the judgmentalness:
In the countless sales I have attended over the years, I have been amazed by the number of packaged cookies, high-end cupcakes and impeccably round marzipan-covered confections that people plop down on the table, with no compunction, to be resold.
And then there’s the classic “but cooking from scratch really doesn’t take any more time!” insistence:
Some pull out the “lack of time” card when it comes to baking (though in truth, Rice Krispie treats take less time to make than going to Safeway for cookies)
(As a veteran Rice Krispie treat-maker, I call BS on this one: to make Rice Krispie treats you have to first go to the grocery store to get the Rice Krispies, marshmallows and butter, then make the treats, then wash the dishes. It is quite easy, but still…)
Then there’s the suggestion that those who don’t bake from scratch are destroying tradition:
Store-bought potluck offerings are also a deviation from deeply rooted traditions, sparked centuries ago, of food sharing, which became central to American social customs in the middle of the last century.
Plenty of other people seem to have found the piece offensive. Ayelet Waldman, the novelist, noted Michael Chabon sex-mate and self-described Bad Mother, thought the story was sexist. She has waded fearlessly into the Twitter fray (not for the first time) to say just that and more in her famously tactful way:
While I think writing personal, name-calling attacks against writers you disagree with is really unacceptable, I do think there’s something to be said about Steinhauer’s piece perpetuating some deep-set sexist assumptions. Mothers are still considered the moral guardians of the family kitchen in this country, and it’s mothers who are being judged in Steinhauer’s piece – several judgmental moms are quoted in the story, included one who says she gossips about people who bring store-bought stuff to bake sales.
More broadly, the piece speaks to the fact that even in the 21st century – perhaps now more than ever – we still judge women by the food they serve. And this is an issue that goes well beyond bake sales and potlucks.
What do you think? Have you ever brought Oreos to a bake sale? Do you judge those who do? Frankly, in the potlucks I attend, I’ve always noticed that it’s the big ol’ bucket of Bojangles fried chicken that gets eaten first, no matter how classy the crowd…