Last week I had an experience that almost turned me into a vegetarian: I bought chicken from a butcher specializing in sustainable/organic meats...and it was the most expensive chicken I have ever purchased. While the nice lady behind the counter told me the price and started packaging the bird in fancy paper touting all sorts of organic stamps and labels, I just stood there in a weird shocked silence, unable to take it all in, and then with my body on auto-pilot I paid. The whole way home I just kept telling myself that it wasn't possible I just paid that much for a chicken and if this was the cost of buying "responsible" meat, we were going to have to 1) find second jobs, 2) stop caring about how livestock is treated, or 3) give up meat. None of those really feel like good options to me, and I haven't yet worked out what we're going to do about it, but in the meantime we won't be roasting any more chickens.
I found myself at the butcher in the first place, because we were having friends over for dinner (diehard meat eaters who wouldn't touch a vegetable with a ten-foot pole, or fish or cheese), and Niek wanted to work on his chicken roasting skills. In the last few years, he's become something of a chicken roasting afficianado, and he'll most likely be working on perfecting his technique for the next few decades.
And this brings me to the actual point of the post, which is supposed to be about the gendering of cooking and my experiences in the Netherlands. Growing up in the Heartland, I didn't see a lot of men using their skills in the kitchen. I don't think I can say that any of my childhood friends' fathers cooked, and I don't remember my dad ever making us dinner (now that my dad is retired, he's taken on a lot more of the dinner making duties, so kudos to you, Dad). Grilling on the barbeque doesn't count, since I would say it's seen as a pretty masculine activity. There are plenty of discussions in our modern world about how home cooking is still perceived as women's work, and I really wanted to site this article, but my proxy server to the university's research library wasn't granting me access, although I found an amusing anecdote about gender and cooking here and a rather angry assessment of Michael Pollan's take on the matter here. Interestingly enough, all of the partners of my friends know their way around a kitchen, and some of them even do the majority of the cooking in the relationship. Regan should tell you about her husband's forays into bread, cheese, and beer making. I'll refrain from using my guy friends as a representative slice of American culture since I dabble a little more in that crazy intellectual/academic world than most people. But whoah, am I digressing a little bit?
This is really about gender and cooking in my home away from home. Most of the home cooking I have experienced in the Netherlands has either been in my own household or in that of my in-laws where my mother-in-law wouldn't dream of preparing a meal and my father-in-law has been in charge of family dinners since my husband can remember. It was early in our relationship that I learned that Niek's dad was the cook of their house, and I remember being a little shocked hear it. It shouldn't really have come as a surprise to me considering that Niek cooked dinner for us on our second date and cooks about half of the time now. Maybe if both of us didn't work it would be different, but since we both find ourselves busy with work and we both actually enjoy cooking, we are able to maintain a fairly even split. I love that I find myself in a family that supports everyone's interests and skills and doesn't really seem to divide household responsibilities among any sort of gendered guidelines. Are there swaths of Dutch culture that see women as being responsible for cooking simply because they're women? Absolutely. Is it a hard an fast rule everyone ascribes to? No, and I am quite happy for that.