Uproot: Feminism and the food movement

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Author Peggy Orenstein

By Robyn Johnson

Peggy Orenstein’s essay “The Femivore’s Dilemma” has caused a bit of a dither, but then gender issues never make for easy conversation. Some light mocking has arisen over Orenstein’s coinage of the term femivore, which, as has been pointed out in innumerous blog comments, means one who eats women. But yes, I think we can agree it’s intended as a portmanteau of feminist and locavore. And it’s the relationship that she draws between these two movements as a way to redefine homemaking that has many people talking.

Orenstein writes:

“Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible?”

And this had been troubling for both feminists and food movementists. Do homemakers need to be legitimized by raising their own chickens instead of shopping at Safeway? Do these gender roles even matter anymore for third-wave feminism? Is this just useless “hand-wringing” over what is really a non-issue in terms of food politics?

I, myself, am a little uncomfortable at drawing a more feminist-than-thou distinction between the urban homesteader and the regular Walmart-patronizing stay-at-home mom. But I understand the anxieties that Orenstein discusses, and I would lying if I said that never experience doubt time to time when I do traditionally sanctioned “women’s work.” The legacy of the previous waves runs deep for a lot of us.

I also agree that this conversation needs to happen as more and more dialogue, like this NYT piece by Michael Pollan, addresses the problems of processed food by imploring both sexes to return to the kitchen, a place, still very symbolically loaded for many women, that will need redefinition.

What do you think?

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