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The 'Bachelor' Problem

January 10, 1991|RUTH REICHL | TIMES FOOD EDITOR

We were going to call this section "bachelor food," using the word for both men and women in much the same way that the term "actor" is now used. Then one of our copy editors noted that Webster's defines a bachelor as a man, and went on to complain that the piece one woman has written about her father's cooking is "dated, cliched, sexist."

Is it really? In our dreams, perhaps. But the truth is that for most of our fathers cooking was either a profession or a hobby; our mothers were the ones who cooked because they had to. My father proudly cooked a single dish--scrambled eggs--every Sunday. He looked smug while he did it, and he was never known to wash a dish. Years after the advent of women's lib, things haven't changed all that much.

More men cook today--and they do it more often than they used to. But if you are married to such a man, your friends undoubtedly tell you how lucky you are. More importantly, if you are such a man, you have become accustomed to being praised and petted for your accomplishment.

Over and over we hear the same complaints--he may cook a fabulous meal but he still doesn't want to do the dishes . . . he makes a mess when he cooks and then I'm the one who has to clean it up . . . he only cooks if he has all the right ingredients--and if I do the shopping . . . Women have gone into the work force in record numbers, housewives are history, but men who cook are still so rare that most end up being subjects in trend pieces on househusbands. Even after eight hours at work and an hour on the freeway, nobody would think to praise a woman for coming home and cooking for her family; nobody would think not to praise a man for doing exactly the same thing.

Then too, men tend to cook differently than women. Most allow themselves the luxury of cooking what they like, as opposed to cooking what they're supposed to. Most men don't make chicken soup for sick kids, and few men even know how to roast a turkey or bake a birthday cake. In modern America, that is woman's work.

Or rather, married woman's work. A single woman in the kitchen is much like a man--she can cook--or not cook--whatever she pleases. A man can marry with the reasonable certainty that food will appear, at least occasionally, upon his dinner table, but if a woman really wants to stay out of the kitchen, her best bet is to stay single.

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