From the kitchen to the corridors of power

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am


It's remarkable how often when we ask a foodie about his or her earliest food or cooking experience that the answer involves their mother's influence.

Perhaps this would come as no surprise if we were talking to people who learned to cook 50 years ago when mothers generally stayed at home and looked after the children. But we talk to chefs and foodies whose mothers were a formative influence in an era when women such as Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher had already shown that women could rule countries as much as kitchens.

I'm not knocking my mother's role in the kitchen. As my father is an adventurous eater but an uninspired cook, the young Moselles would have enjoyed a diet of fried eggs if he had been at the stove. My mother introduced us to her versions of Indian, Moroccan and Vietnamese food, while holding down a full-time career in education.

We may have been the only children on our street who could recognise a clove of garlic.

Yet it seems some want to go back to a past where women had fewer opportunities and were somehow deemed naturally more suited to cooking than men - except in restaurants. Outspoken British chef Gordon Ramsay went so far as to campaign to 'get women back in the kitchen'. He was reported to say that modern women 'know how to mix cocktails, but can't cook to save their lives'.

The Slow Food movement is a champion of localism and bemoans what it calls the standardisation of life across the world. In an article in Time magazine, founder Carlo Petrini painted a nostalgic picture of a past when 'hardly any mothers had a job, grandmothers lived with their children and grandchildren, and lunch and dinner were rites you couldn't miss. Even if the world was collapsing around you, you would go home at a set time, sit down and eat a full meal fondly prepared by the women of the house.'

Petrini says he doesn't want to force women back into the kitchen. But it's difficult to see how his desire to 'find ideas in the past that we might apply in our increasingly complex society' could have any other outcome.

The activist is better known for his opposition to McDonald's than his ideas about women. While I've argued here before that the food from fast-food franchises is what you can expect quality-wise for the price, the organisation of these companies is a pointer to a different future. Large franchises divide up their work efficiently and in a way that simplifies the drudgery.

Millions of meals are made by a few thousand people, rather than millions of women working in isolation, as any return to the past would imply.

Now if only those McDonald's staff could learn to cook like mum.