Date of this Version
Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12:2 (June 2015), pp. 200–204.
doi: 10.1080/ 14791420.2015.1014152
Between their detailed instructions, measurements, and helpful hints, cookbooks provide directives about the proper management of household space. Cookbooks establish rules that govern intimate habits, helping readers to make sense of how cooking rituals fit within the domestic division of labor. They cultivate, naturalize, and sometimes resist domestic habits as they pass into the realm of unconscious investments that ideological critics call “common sense.” However, Isaac West argues that while cookbooks “invite readers into specific subject positions, some of which are more attainable than others,” they provide cooks with “opportunities for communicating who they are and who they might want to be.” Critical/cultural scholars have documented how cookbooks, domestic advice manuals, and food television socialized women into the cult of feminine domesticity. Meanwhile, if men were hailed by domestic food discourse it was as a caveman-like caricature of alpha males cooking large portions of meat over open flame.
By and large, male cooking has taken place in professional kitchens, where a chef’s credentials and a hypermasculine environment situate cooking as a manly vocation. Despite the recent growth in women ascending the ranks of professional kitchens, most women report the persistence of a male locker-room culture in the restaurant industry. Meanwhile, a surge in men’s interest in cooking has imported such cheflike machismo into home kitchens. While women still do a majority of household cooking, Generation X men are more involved in the kitchen than their fathers. “Gastrosexual” men spend significantly more time shopping, preparing food, and consuming culinary media. Jon Miller notes that the growing numbers of professional women who are equal or sole income-earners have contributed to “a reallocation of time and duties” in the home. This shift has been accompanied by cooking instructions that help men adapt to their new domestic duties by masculinizing home kitchens, converting them into laboratories where men can emulate the bravado of their professional counterparts. The proliferation of men’s cookbooks such as Man Meets Stove, Tough Guys Don’t Dice, and Tastosterone are a response to a perceived crisis in masculinity associated with women’s continued integration into the workforce that necessitates an expansion of men’s domestic duties.
The new culinary male reveals how cooking discourses structure our dispositions toward the intimate practices of domestic labor. Grounded in Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of habitus, this essay finds domestic cooking advice to be a naturalizing force that establishes the patterns of experience that incline social agents to perform gender through domestic labor. Habitus is a structure of the mind that is acquired through the practices of everyday life. James Aune reads habitus as a “structuring mechanism” whereby the social world is internalized, a concept that illustrates how ideologies are acquired through embodied experiences with social structures. Cooking discourse fundamentally structures habitus because food preparation and “taste” are reflections of social position—race, class, gender, ability, and sexuality. Thus, men’s cookbooks invest culinary skills with cultural capital that compensates male audiences for adopting feminine domestic duties. Here, I briefly examine Esquire magazine’s Eat Like a Man Cookbook (hereafter Eat) as an exemplar of domestic advice that distinguishes masculine skill from feminine care work. Of course, Esquire is renowned for providing a bombastic take on manliness. My selection of Eat is premised on its explicit effort to import the machismo of the professional kitchen into men’s reclamation of domestic care work. In part, Eat speaks to men whose role in the home or workplace is dissimilar to their father and grandfather and who might seek advice as to how they can recapture their “manliness.”