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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recipes for Resistance: Feminist Political Discourse About Cooking, 1870-1985

  • Author(s): Williams, Stacy Jeanne
  • Advisor(s): Blair-Loy, Mary
  • et al.

To better understand campaigns for gender equality, we must examine how women challenge the family and the home. Recently, social movements scholars have shown that movements target many institutions and occur within a wide array of settings. Theories such as the “multi-institutional politics approach” and “strategic action fields” lay the conceptual groundwork necessary to examine how the family and home become arenas for social movement activity. The gender literature tells us that the family and home are particularly important to women’s social experiences; therefore, these settings are likely to be central to women’s social movements. However, few studies have examined the processes by which these spheres become politicized.

I examine how feminists have politicized the home and family through their discourse about cooking. I analyze culinary discourse from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, woman suffragists, liberal second-wave feminists, and radical second-wave feminists. I research community cookbooks published by these feminists, their newspaper articles about cooking, and food-related archival materials from feminist organizations or restaurants.

I have identified three processes that help us understand how these feminists developed culinary discourse that supported their political goals. First, they used culinary claims to build moral collective identities. I argue that each movement’s moral identity appealed to the constituencies that would help them achieve their political goals. Second, I demonstrate that the gendered character of cultural genres helps with frame resonance. Suffragists and liberal feminists used the feminized nature of cookbooks to extend more transgressive political arguments to their readers. I call this process “hiding spinach in the brownies,” for cookbooks provide an appetizing medium for frames that are harder to swallow. Third, I expand the study of prefigurative politics beyond organizational forms by developing new concepts, “personal prefigurative politics” and “integrated prefigurative politics,” to describe how feminists suggested culinary methods that would enable activists to prefigure their envisioned social change within their personal homes. These three processes help us understand the role of the home and family in social movements, and they demonstrate how women use domestic actions to work toward women’s empowerment.

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