Mark Bittman on The Joy Of Cooking [Sexism]
Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is up there on my shelf with a handful of others in my "cookbooks that cover it all" section. It's also now ten years old, and — as with most cookbooks that stay in print that long — it's been revised and reissued as an anniversary edition. Bittman is perhaps more masterful as a self-promoter than he is as a food writer, so it's unsurprising that this reissue landed him an interview in the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ: Were you surprised that the original edition emerged as a successful alternative to "Joy of Cooking," or was that your intent when you started out?
Mr. Bittman: Yes, it was our intent, and yes, I was surprised. The ["Joy of Cooking"] edition that had been rewritten had too many personalities, whereas the charm of the original was that it was written by a woman who wanted to tell other women about what was fun and useful. This is my take on what I've learned over the course of 40 years of cooking.
Ahem. Bittman might think that woman teaching other women to cook might be "charming," but Joy of Cooking was a battle cry. Its title isn't just a pretty phrase — because during the great depression, when it came out, cooking was a reminder of how shitty everything was, how miserable everyone's lives were, and Irma Rombauer wanted to undo that. I mean, for heaven's sake, the cover of the first edition depicted St. Martha of Bethany, patron saint of cooks (and female, what's up!), slaying the terrible tarasque. There's a clear message here: You can feed your family. You can make it through difficult times with grace. You are not powerless.
While the infectiously upbeat tone of The Joy of Cooking was, yes, directed at women (because women were the ones doing all the cooking at the time it came out) it was also one of the first cookbooks ever to actually concern itself with the actual joy of cooking. Preparing food wasn't something that was done for fun, and Rombauer's recontextualization opened the door to uncountable thousands of cookbooks (and passionate home cooks) to follow.
Bittman himself is a direct product of the culture that Joy of Cooking singlehandedly enabled — he proudly admits that all his culinary training comes from cookbooks. He also makes a cushy living thanks to the readership of people who love to cook, and should be a little bit more freaking grateful to the book that allowed him to get there.
Previously on Eat me daily:
Mark Bittman Is a Very Happy Man