A recently published study claims that the push for healthy, home-cooked family meals – pressure coming from famous “foodies,” public health officials and First Lady Michelle Obama – is actually a “moralistic … elitist … burden” on poor and working-class mothers.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made health food and exercise programs for children her signature issue. The study says she has been “influential in popularizing public health messages that emphasize the role that mothers play when it comes to helping children make healthy choices,” but that advice shames mothers into “unrealistic standards of ‘good’ mothering.”
The North Carolina State University study contends the notion of healthy, home-cooked meals is an “alluring” but “tasty illusion, one that is moralistic, and rather elitist, instead of a realistic vision of cooking today.”
The study further contends home cooking represents an “elite foodie standpoint,” as many of the working-class families the authors spoke to lacked necessary kitchen space, reliable transportation to the grocery store and functional appliances.
It’s also sexist, the study’s authors suggest, noting that “intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy home-cooked meal on women.”
Researchers spent 18 months conducting in-depth interviews with 150 black, white, and Latina mothers, as well as spent more than 250 hours in observation of 12 working-class and poor families to determine their results.
The end result was that they questioned why reforming the food system has to be in someone’s kitchen.
“The emphasis on home cooking ignores the time pressures, financial constraints, and feeding challenges that shape the family meal,” the study states. “Yet this is the widely promoted standard to which all mothers are held.”
The authors used a series of anecdotes to show the “pressures” of cooking. A working-class, black mother of three had just spent hours cooking up $80 worth of ingredients to make a Fourth of July meal, only to find her family completely disinterested, for example.
“Romantic depictions of cooking assume that everyone has a home, that family members are home eating at the same time, and that kitchens and dining spaces are equipped and safe,” the study states. “This is not necessarily the case for the families we met.”
As a solution, the authors recommend a revival of monthly town suppers, healthy food trucks and schools offering to-go meals to families that can easily be heated up on weeknights.
“Without creative solutions like these, suggesting that we return to the kitchen en masse will do little more than increase the burden so many women already bear,” the study reads.
The study, however, fails to mention whether mothers said they had good experiences cooking at home for their families.
A University of Michigan study from 2012 calls into question the allegation that the cooking meals falls squarely on women. The report found that men from Generation X are increasingly involved in shopping for food and cooking, more so than the previous generation.
Men were found to go grocery shopping more than once a week and cook an average of about eight meals per week.
“I was surprised to see how often GenX men shop and cook,” said Jon Miller, the author of study. “Women, particularly married women, are still doing more cooking and shopping. But men are much more involved in these activities than they used to be. The stereotype that men can’t do much more in the kitchen than boil water just can’t hold water, as it were.”
What’s more, the ongoing economic recession has prompted even more men to spend time in the kitchen.
“Compared to 1970, men have tripled the amount of time they’re spending in the kitchen today,” Food Channel reports.
College Fix reporter Michael Cipriano is a student at American University.