As a kid, I feared female interiority. Or rather I feared what would happen if I admitted to it, if I let too much in. I think because I was afraid of, as Eileen Myles puts it in their foreword to Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, agreeing to something that would ultimately cause me harm—that would limit me, box me in. This is where I got the idea that domesticity as such would be a trap.
As an adult, though, I haven’t been able to get enough of it. While I was always all about “girl power” and feminism, the brand I’d been sold was of the “equality means being like a guy” type and so I internalized the sense that there was weakness in femininity. It wasn’t until I took a class in college called Feminism and American Poetry where a major text was No More Masks! that I realized I could find strength in claiming what I’d been taught was powerless.
(“To talk is weak, in some sense. To talk, to write, is to want, to admit to want,” writes Caren Beilin in Blackfishing the IUD. She also writes, “I decided to love women, the way you decide to start reading them. You have to decide.” I agreed; I decided.)
Now, I can’t get enough female interiority. Give me all the books of hybrid memoir and fiction, put on the Fiona Apple, etc. (I’m being intentionally glib and self-mocking here!) Which is all to say that I love to be exposed to new ways of thinking, and I love to feel myself change. What I had seen as the “weakness” in femininity was that U.S. culture doesn’t value care and if I agreed to be female, I would be doomed to care. What’s changed over time is seeing that not as doom but as possibility. We see this dichotomy in how women chefs are treated versus men, how home expertise is valued versus the restaurant space. Care vs. capital, a battle to the end of the planet.
I’ve felt more changes lately when I find myself thinking, I wish people were coming over for dinner and when someone wants to hang out and I say, “Just come over.” Despite how exhausted I get, my instinct of late is to feed as many people as possible. (To feed as many dogs as possible, too, by dropping food with a local woman who has two.)
It’s clear that in food I’ve found a (to use an obnoxious term) love language, a way to express care to the world. It’s also clear that despite getting older and being married, I have an instinct against the dominant paradigm to close myself into a nuclear family unit. I’d prefer to expand. People ask if I sell cakes or whether I’ll charge for seats at our long weekend lunches—no, never, unless maybe I want to raise money to feed people (and dogs) for free. I just want the satisfaction.
This isn’t because I’m a great person (if anything, I’m a Catholic seeking forgiveness for whatever my failures and limitations might be, wanting to cleanse myself of regret), but because while I just feel like it, I also understand it as a necessary way forward for humanity to survive calamity. Cultivating abundance and community through as much care as I can muster is how I am able to see the future, despite how down I am about climate, political, and economic news. I think about reframing the role of the food writer, where recipes become tools of care, of nourishment, rather than aspiration. I think about the significance of the commons. I think about Millicent Souris—a writer, cook, and manager of a food pantry and soup kitchen in Brooklyn—in our conversation for a future podcast responding to the question of whether cooking is a political act with, “I don't think cooking is but I think feeding people is, and I think that they're different.”
This reminds me of the subtitle of Tamara Santibañez’s book Could This Be Magic? Tattooing As Liberation Work. Feeding as liberation work. Recipes as liberation work. Farming as liberation work.
The most exciting days in my house for me growing up were the ones when other people came over—when I could eavesdrop on new conversations, watch how other people behaved. And with a big apartment in San Juan, now it’s easy to have a life of casually cooking up a storm for whoever can pass by.
It’s about food culture, as Jovida Ross, Shizue Roche Adachiand Julie Quiroz have put it in their piece “Rethinking Food Culture Might Save Us” for Nonprofit Quarterly (they sent it to me while I was putting this piece together, showing how many of us are on this thought pattern right now—a soft survival thought pattern!):
To transform our food system, address our legacies of harm, and interrupt our reckless relationship to ecosystems, we need to look beyond food supply chains to the culture underpinning how we produce and share food. We need to advance narratives that celebrate interdependency and care. Stated otherwise, we need to transform our food culture.
This can start in the kitchen. In 1975’s Wages Against Housework, Silvia Federici makes the case—one that has endured—for wages for housework being the beginning of a transformation of relationships to capital and to each other. If women could get wages for their labor at home, they could then organize for different conditions. Women could stop doing housework altogether. In her view, it’s not an endgame but a basis for revolution; this has been watered-down in more mainstream asks for paying parents to stay home.
I, of course, latch onto Federici’s note about how we could “organize communally the way we want to eat” and “make the State pay for it.” Last week during a conversation, Amy Halloran—@flourambassador—mentioned the lost potential of communal kitchens. I think of txokos, the gastronomic societies in San Sebastían (that are called “secret” in every headline but anyone who’s been on a press trip in the region has gone), where folks cook and eat together.
To consider Federici’s question, I want to ask, How do we want to eat? What could be a way forward, where the burdens are shared? Some of us, undoubtedly, would remain control freaks—but outside the unit of a couple or small family, we might work through these tendencies. I know I’ve found a lot of joy in doing all the measuring and chopping and then just letting my husband make risotto, which I never imagined possible before.
Changing these relationships to various cooking acts can also decrease total labor. “I’ve thought a lot about how instead to get people to understand that bread baking works best when it becomes a ‘lifestyle’ rather than a once-in-awhile thing,” Andrew Janjigian of Wordloaf tells me when I ask him about his relationship to the labor of cooking, “that some of the labor lessens when you make it a practice that you return to regularly. (This also increases your success rate.)”
What would cooking with other people as a “lifestyle” look like? “Only by multiplying our circles of care—in the first instance, by expanding our notion of kinship—will we achieve the psychic infrastructures necessary to build a caring society that has universal care as its ideal,” the Care Collective writes in their book The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence.
A caring society would be one where care work is visible and compensated. It would also be one (to state, as always) where no one is worried about the basic necessities of life (food, housing, health care). But as Federici says, redefining the conditions of housework—care work, cleaning, cooking—is a place to begin.
Climate journalist Amy Westervelt developed the Invisible Labor Calculator, where you can put in the number of hours spent on household and familial work and see how much you should be getting paid. In Essential Labor: Mothering As Social Change (out next week), Angela Garbes writes of entering her own numbers: “I was floored when the calculator told me my annual wage should be over $300,000, which would make being a domestic worker the highest paying job I’ve ever had. By far.”
There’s a chapter in Garbes’s new book called “Mothering As Human Interdependence” that also shows what “care as lifestyle” looks like, where she gets at the idea of how there can be more ease in a community approach to parenting, and she especially notes the relevance of food:
“When I finally loaded my children into the car—plus three shopping bags of clothes, the baking dish of mangoes, and fresh eggs from their backyard chickens—I laughed to myself at how we can’t seem to show up at each other’s houses without some kind of food offering. And then I thought—isn’t that the way it should be?”
Isn’t that the way it should be? As simple as that. We overthink when all we all want is to be cared for, and we can imagine new and transformative ways of doing that. The moment, right now, that feels so bleak? It’s a ripe one for reimagining a more interdependent future, and sharing food with everyone around us is one transformative way toward it.
Last week’s podcast featured writer Jami Attenberg. This Wednesday’s guest will be Angela Garbes, to discuss her food writing career and both her books: Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy and the out-next-week Essential Labor: Mothering As Social Change. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or adjust your settings to receive an email when it’s out.
Friday’s From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers will include a recipe for chocolate mousse. This mousse is wildly elegant and thick, if I do say so myself. Vegan, as always. See the recipe index for all past recipes available to paid subscribers.
Sign up for Prism’s “The Meat Issue,” for which I’ve served as editor-at-large. It will be very, very accessible.
A lot!!!!!! Next week I will publish my 100th essay in this newsletter, and it will be an ESSAY ABOUT ESSAYS and the ways I’ve learned through writing so many of them in just over two years!
I received a copy of Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil and am flipping out about making everything. Pictured above, plantains.