Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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Anthony Bourdain vs Paula Deen: Men are chefs, women are cooks

paula deen

Frank Bruni has an incredibly sharp opinion piece on foodie classism in this morning’s New York Times, and the internet’s been zinging with responses ever since.

The essay centers around a comment made by everyone’s favorite bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain about Grande Dame of Southern cooking Paula Deen, in which Bourdain slams Deen for “telling an already obese nation that it’s O.K. to eat food that is killing us.”

Deen responds by accusing Bourdain of classism: “Not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine,” she says. “My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills.”

Bruni makes the excellent point that, when a fatty food is expensive and consumed by elites – like Momofuku chef David Chang’s pork belly buns – foodies line up around the block to taste it, but when a fatty food is humble and cheap like hot dogs or fried chicken, we tend to wrinkle our noses.  This is pure classism, Bruni rightly claims.

I’m going to step in and say there’s something else going on here as well – sexism. I’ve been thinking lately about how women are still considered the moral arbiters of home cooking, and how the popular culture reflects this. Humble home cooking is still seen as very much the women’s realm, whereas restaurant cooking is still very male-dominated (some 91 percent of executive chefs are men, believe it or not). Just look at the Food Network’s lineup to see how differently male versus female cooking is portrayed.

Male-hosted shows:

Chefs vs. City (“Food Network chefs Aarón Sánchez and Chris Cosentino challenge two local foodies in an action-packed food adventure to locate that city’s biggest, boldest, most unexpected food places”)

Heat Seekers (two male chefs go on “a tongue-testing odyssey to discover the most deliciously spicy food across the country”)

Good Eats (Alton Brown’s humorous food science show)

Throwdown with Bobby Flay (Flay challenges local chefs to “throwndown” cooking competitions)

Grill it! with Bobby Flay (Flay competes in grilling challenges with local pitmasters)

Bobby Flay’s BBQ Addiction (“a high-impact cooking series that takes outdoor grilling to a whole new level!”)

Ace of Cakes (“Meet Chef Duff. Shaping cakes with drill saws and blowtorches, and staffing his bakery with fellow rock musicians, he’s not your typical baker.”)

Sugar High (Ace of Cakes chef Duff travels around eating dessert)

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (rock n’ roll-style chef Guy Fieri eats burgers, footlongs and other greasy diner foods across America)

Guy’s Big Bite (Guy Fieri cooks “fun, fearless” foods like pepperoni lasagna with special guests like Matthew McConaughey)

Sandwich King (Next Food Network Star winner Jeff Mauro makes sandwiches)

Food Feuds (“Michael Symon pounds the pavement searching for the country’s most intense and long-standing dish disputes to settle once and for all.”)

Dinner Impossible (former Royal Navy chef Robert Irvine prepares huge meals under extreme circumstances and time constraints – at football games, on isolated islands, etc.)

Restaurant: Impossible (former Royal Navy chef Robert Irvine undertakes “extreme missions” to rescue failing restaurants in 48 hours)

24-Hour Restaurant Battle (Scott Conant hosts competition between two aspiring restaurateurs)

Chopped (Ted Allen hosts a competition show between four aspiring chefs)

Tyler’s Ultimate (Tyler Florence travels around looking for the “ultimate” dishes)

The Great Food Truck Race (Tyler Florence hosts competition between local food truck owners)

Female-hosted shows:

Aarti Party (The Next Food Network Star winner “shares” simplified Indian-American recipes “for home cooks everywhere”)

Alex’s Day Off (“Alex Guarnaschelli, professional chef, working mom and passionate home cook, invites viewers to learn her down-to-earth recipes“)

The Cooking Loft (Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli teaches small cooking classes in a cozy, plant-filled loft kitchen)

Secrets of a Restaurant Chef (“Anne Burrell translates your favorite restaurant foods into amazing at-home meals”)

Everyday Italian (“chef Giada De Laurentiis shares updated versions of the homey recipes she grew up with in her Italian family.”)

Giada at Home (Giada De Laurentiis cooks for friends and family in her house)

The Barefoot Contessa (“hostess with the mostess” Ina Garten cooks at home for her husband and friends)

Hungry Girl (Lisa Lillen, founder of a popular diet website, cooks low-calorie foods)

Mexican Made Easy (chef cooks “healthy and easy to prepare Mexican meals”)

Ten Dollar Dinners (“season five winner of The Next Food Network Star and stay-at-home mom, Melissa d’Arabian, shows viewers how to incorporate creative and tasty meals into their budgets by sharing her tried-and-true recipes”)

Nigella Kitchen (“Kitchen Goddess” Nigella Lawson does home cooking)

Paula’s Best Dishes (Southern chef Paula Deen does home cooking)

Paula’s Home Cooking (“Paula Deen brings uncomplicated and delicious home cooking to a series dedicated to the American traditions”)

Paula’s Party (Paula Deen does party food with celebrity guests)

30 Minute Meals (Rachel Ray does quick home dinners)

The Pioneer Woman (“city girl turned rancher’s wife turned food blogger” Ree Drummond “shares her special brand of home cooking”)

Sandra’s Money-Saving Meals (Sandra Lee cooks budget-friendly home meals)

Semi-Homemade Cooking (“In an atmosphere as inviting as her recipes,” Sandra Lee cooks home meals with a combo of fresh and prepared ingredients)

Cooking for Real (Sunny Anderson takes a “fresh, uncomplicated approach to classic comfort foods” for “real people”)

The results are pretty damn stark. ALL of the female-hosted shows are home-cooking shows, while nearly all of the male-hosted shows are competitions or reality shows or travel shows. Female chefs – even lauded professional restaurant chefs like Alexandra Guarnaschelli – are described as being “working moms” or “stay-at-home moms” and their food is described with adjectives like “simple” and “homey” and “accessible” and “healthy.” The food on the male-hosted shows is “intense” and “extreme” and “ultimate” and “fearless.”

On the Food Network, men are clearly cooking for fun and to win prizes, while women are trying to make wholesome food for their families. So for many people, it’s OK for Guy Fieri to go around stuffing his maw with beer can chicken and pork barbecue because it’s just for fun, whereas when Paula Deen slathers a chicken with a pound of butter she’s basically telling you to give your kids type 2 diabetes.

Home cooking is a wonderful thing, but I’m tired of seeing it portrayed as “women’s work” and watching women and mothers be blamed for the obesity epidemic. If we’re going to have a healthier food culture, everybody needs to take part.





7 comments to Anthony Bourdain vs Paula Deen: Men are chefs, women are cooks

  • Brilliant. Thanks for taking this discussion in this important direction — would have missed it entirely without this piece.

  • What about the travel shows headed by women? $40 A Day (with Rachel Ray), the party show with Giada, and at least one travel show with Giada. Maybe they weren’t popular and were canceled because of that?
    I do find the blog post title interesting though… There are many male cooks and plenty of female chefs. I think the distinction is if one went to culinary school and graduated with a degree. Giada is a chef and Paula Deen is a cook. If all the men on the network happen to be chefs and not all the women are, I don’t see the big deal. And if the shows headed by men are more aggressive-sounding or are centered on competition, why is that bad? Are you saying that you’d like to see a competition-based show with women heading it? Women have traditionally been the nurturers, not the men (though I have seen plenty of men who are the nurturers and not women), but for large audiences, FN is trying to appeal to a wide base and bases programming on what people would watch. How many women would watch a competition-based show with women heading it? I don’t know, but I bet they did some research on it.

    • admin

      Hi Anna – thanks for the comments. I would love to see a competition-based show with a woman heading it, personally :) . But I agree – the Food Network has probably run the numbers and decided that “men cooking for fun”/”women cooking to feed families” is what sells. I just think this reflects something unfortunate about society, something we should be working to change. If we’re going to try to chance our food culture and deal with the obesity epidemic, as so many people are working hard to do, we can’t continue to portray home-cooking as the woman’s domain.

      • Hi Emily,
        At one point, there was a competition show (I think it was “Chopped”, but I could be wrong), with Padma Lakshmi as a host. It was terrible, but I think it was just her. I too wouldn’t mind a woman-hosted competition show. And yeah, I think men belong in the kitchen as much as women (maybe all those shows are dropped or on the Cooking Channel) but I seem to remember shows with Michael Chiarelo and David Rocco, and Mario Batali where men cooked the “homey” meals. I think some of them are still available on the other channel (Cooking channel). Maybe the Cooking Channel is now how the old FN was? Kinda like MTV and MTV2 (and I haven’t watched either in about a decade). Actually, I think men being in the kitchen is relatively new in this country, maybe in the last 20-30 years, so I think we’re moving into a more equal kitchen. :)

  • [...] Matchar, who is working on a book about New Domesticity, used this ruckus as an excuse to break down the show on the Food Network by gender: Female chefs – even lauded professional restaurant chefs like Alexandra Guarnaschelli – are [...]

  • FYI: Anthony B. was just awarded his own imprint at Ecco/HarperCollins. It will be interesting to see the gender mix there. Personally, I think the guy’s hilarious, particularly when he’s mean, but I also think his persona, classism and all, is on par with Stephen Colbert’s faux-conservative act. Without it, Bourdain would be just another middling professional with a chain of okay French restaurants.

    Still waiting for “Woman vs. Food” starring Padma Lakshmi… Are you listening, TV people?

  • [...] schticky celebrity chefs he routinely skewers. His chef-status is admittedly mediocre, he’s not shy about where women belong, and the whole Quentin Tarantino channeling Hunter S. Thompson gets a little grating after 40 [...]