The inscription in the cook-book given to me as a Bat I Mitzvah gift by my very I well-educated next-door J neighbor reads: “This, more than anything, will bring bring pleasure to those you love.” After more than 30 years, the assumptions in that declaration still sting: that at thirteen I’m going to be ready to cook for anybody; that-a couldn’t possibly be for my own pleasure, but for some mysterious persons I might serve in the future; that it’s food and not, for example, sex that is the preferred pathway to joy.
Food — its purchase, preparation and consumption — has been a potent issue for feminists. From who washes the dishes to who diets to please whom, food has provided the very terms for many ongoing debates about roles, gender and more.
An indication of our ambivalence about food is the fact that this is the first time in LILITH’s thirteen years we’ve run a food-related article. We had the strong feeling that putting recipes — recipes! — in a feminist magazine would signal the instant when the women’s movement stopped moving. Cooking had come to represent the emblem of women’s oppression.
And yet, and yet … the other side of the omelette is this: We all know that what goes on in a kitchen — especially a woman’s kitchen — tells us a lot about the way people live and love. Kitchen behaviors (aside from food itself) are an index to intimacy. Which guests feel comfortable in the kitchen, who is permitted to see the “staging area” for the dinner party, what topics get discussed at the late-night kitchen table. I’ve fed and been fed (literal and figurative nourishment) in the kitchens of most of the women I care about.
All this is by way of announcing a first. In this issue we feature an article on the Bukharian food Ruth Mason’s mother prepares, and some of the assumptions about family life that the cooking brings forth. (Indicating some of our nervousness, still, about the correct feminist political stance toward cooking, the working title of this piece in the LILITH office was “Taking Kitchens Back from the Right Wing.”)
Especially in an era of fascination with the lives of “ethnic” women (i.e., anybody who is not oneself) and with renewed respect for women’s cross-cultural difference, food and its preparation provide a quick take, a clear and accessible window onto the experience of Jewish women in divergent cultures.