You know what my kids want every day? Dinner. Every damn day. And that’s not all, people, that’s not even half of it. Every morning they come downstairs looking for breakfast! They also have the very clear expectation of lunch each day. If that isn’t enough, they also like snacks between each of these meals. It can be exhausting, there’s no doubt. Although I’m one half of a family food blog (Sweet Potato Chronicles) that encourages parents to get—and stay—in the game of making meals at home, I’m never reluctant to express what a chore that task can be.
So, I was excited to dive into Virginia Heffernan’s piece in the New York Times this weekend, provocatively titled, “What If You Just Hate Making Dinner?” Bookended by Mark Bittman’s personal essay on teaching his own kids to be adventurous eaters and capable cooks, and the beautiful shots by Hannah Whitaker showcasing what kids around the world eat for breakfast, I relished Heffernan’s tart counterpoint. But what I got was gristle. Heffernan comes on strong, painting all who write about family food with the same sexist paintbrush. Nevermind that childhood obesity is on the rise and that the convenience foods that Heffernan waxes nostalgic for are closely associated with this health epidemic. Health issues do not exist in this takedown, other than something family food angels nag you with. A family food cookbook writer cannot win. Laurie David’s discussions of health benefits of scratch food, in The Family Dinner and The Family Cooks are aggressive. Jenny Rosenstrach’s acknowledgement in Dinner: A Love Story that “no one has it all together” is condescending. Learning cooking skills as a way of improving your health? Bunk. Covering the subject of cooking for one’s family? De facto misogyny!
But what if you like to cook? Not so fast, missy. That’s just you drinking the patriarchy’s Kool-Aid. Says Heffernan: “‘I like to cook’? What about ‘I like not working and having no opinions and being everyone’s handmaiden’? Hasn’t women’s false consciousness about their ‘preferences’ always been a part of the sexist equation?” Even the writer’s feminist friends who admit to enjoying time in the kitchen are traitors. I am with Heffernan in her complaint that much of family food discourse—and frankly, much of all family discourse—is aimed at women in a way that is highly problematic. The work of parenting should be shared. At SPC, my co-creator Laura Keogh and I are particular about directing our blog posts and the recipe notes in our cookbook to parents, not to moms, and absolutely not to “mommies.” Jenny Rosenstrach of the popular blog and cookbook Dinner: A Love Story is snarkily named the “high-priestess” of family cooking by Heffernan. Never mind that much of DALS is penned by Rosenstrach’s husband Andy Ward.
These details don’t matter because they don’t speak to Heffernan’s essential anger that she should have to cook for her kids. She asks, “why food is such a big part of child-rearing?” and seems to truly not know the answer. Raising children is a staggering amount of work. No matter how deeply we love our children, there are huge swaths of their upbringing that are tiring and just plain boring. The supervising of homework, the shuttling to swimming lessons, the reminders to say “please” and “thank you,” along with the making of meals must be repeated and repeated. And repeated. But that’s having kids. They’re yours to protect, educate, civilize, wash, discipline and love. They’re also yours to feed. You can’t argue that feeding them real food is better than not. Is it hard? Oh, yes, it can be really hard. Does the world stop turning if you can’t do it daily? Not even close. And none of the writers Heffernan creates straw men out of suggests otherwise. The good news—for everyone except Heffernan—is that there are people out there with some recipes you can learn, with some strategies to help you get organized, and encouragement when you lost steam. Laurie David, Jenny Rosenstrach, Catherine McCord, Michael Ruhlman, Mark Bittman, Stacie Billis, Jessica Seinfeld—and I could go on and on—are all full of great ideas, and absent of the judgement that many parents fear, when it comes to tackling family food.
Ceri Marsh is a writer, editor, mother and lunch-making ninja. She’s the co-creator of family food brand, Sweet Potato Chronicles and works as an editorial consultant on Chatelaine.