Sistah Vegan’s A. Breeze Harper
“Instead of over-dosing on Dunkin’ Donuts when I’ve had a stressful day, when I’ve had to deal with the micro-aggressions of racism in a ‘post-racial’ society, I’ve discovered these healing foods,” she explains in one of her videos. “A lot of the anxieties I had were cured through a more green, raw diet.” At the end of April, Harper is opening up the topic with an interactive web conference, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter” that includes discussions with Lauren Ornelas, director of the Food Empowerment Project, Pattrice Jones, co-founder of Vine Sanctuary, as well as vegan chef Bryant Terry.
Harper’s use of comfort food isn’t new; but her dedication to veganism as a way to find comfort from centuries of hurt is fresh and dynamic. In her newsletter Eat Me, feminist writer Jessica Valenti takes a more traditional approach to comfort food: she throws down recipes for sea salt cookies and short ribs, but infuses the publication with articles on the myth of feminist man-hating or the UVA rape case.
“I started Eat Me mostly because I love cooking and food. The idea that because I’m known for writing about feminism I shouldn’t write about anything else felt sort of silly,” Valenti told me via email. “That said, food and cooking are absolutely related to feminism, gender dynamics and relationships — so it did feel like a natural extension of the things I already think about.” Last year, in an essay for The Toast entitled Sunday Sauce, Saving Me, Valenti wrote about how the tradition of making a weekly sauce with her daughter Layla saves her emotionally—she began the tradition after her daughter was born. Layla was a two-pound premature baby; the pregnancy, Valenti writes, “had nearly killed us both” because Valenti developed pre-eclampsia by the 28th week.
By the time the essay is written, Layla is three, and she’s fine, healthy, happy — she has all the checkmarks of childhood. And then Valenti learns she’s pregnant again. The doctors feed her haunting warnings: “Your liver could fail.” “We can’t stop you from getting sick.” “We don’t know what will happen to the baby.” Valenti decides to have an abortion, despite fantasizing about “Layla helping me feed a baby, of sisters holding hands or pulling each other’s hair…” It’s the kind of blending that you don’t usually see in a column about food — but it allows Valenti to dissect why food and feminism are both profound influences on her life.
In a manifesto on her blog, the Feminist Kitchen, Addie Broyles writes that the point of a feminist cooking site is that it allows women to “choose how involved they want to be with the food that sustains them. Many cooks, farmers, canners, sausage-makers, entrepreneurs and even homemakers, who happen to be women, have reclaimed domestic tasks not because they have to, but because they want to.”
Women’s relationship to food is often framed as either something unhealthy or as part of our work. It’s possible that feminist cooking publications will help us regain what Barbara Kingsolver says, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that we’ve lost: a food culture. And she blames some of this “lost” food culture on women. She writes:
“When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising… we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable… I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation.”
It’s a guilt-inducing, backwards statement, and at first I took offense to it. My kids get a home-cooked meal once or twice a week; we don’t always eat it together, and I don’t have to make any excuses for that.
But on second glance, I think Kingsolver really means that women can’t possibly be saddled with the task that was once put upon us. There’s an unhealthy sacrifice in that model of serving — the idea that cooking for the family is somehow more important than the health and survival of the mother. Women are now in a place where we need to redefine our relationship to food and cooking in a way that’s about culture and pleasure rather than obligation. It’s precisely why the feminist cooking publication is even that more important: because it raises the female position in the kitchen as something to elevate and revel in — not just to expect.
Hayley Krischer is a freelance writer who has written for The Hairpin, Salon, The New York Times, The Toast and other places. You can find her through her weekly pop culture newsletter So Very or on Twitter.