Cooking has always been a form of nurture. Just ask any Italian housewife from a Martin Scorsese film, but in this macho masculine world (much like a Martin Scorsese film), cooking has been a display of artistic technique and precision for men.
I can’t completely complain about a meal with perfect technique and precision. One of my better meals was at a five-star restaurant in Athens with a view of the Necropolis. Squid ink ravioli, I believe. But my best meal stands uncontested. That dinner was cooked inside of a beach house on Tybee Island Georgia, by a female Korean immigrant who orchestrated a brilliant symphony of Korean-style home cooking after I said that “I’m willing to eat anything. I’m not particularly picky.” She told me Aiden became her favorite English name afterward.
A whole novel could explore the magic of a well-made meal. Like finally being able to cook food from your home country after years of picky eaters. But I only have around five hundred words to explore a fragment of this art.
To finally start this investigation, I think men need to cook more, not only to nurture themselves, but to be nurturing to others. In this macho masculine world, it is already hard enough for men to say “I love you” or even “I appreciate you.” This emotional tightness extends to cooking for most men. Michelle Szabo, in her cultural and gender studies paper “Men nurturing through food: Challenging gender dichotomies around domestic cooking”, states that most men view their cooking as an artistic performance and form of seduction. Some of her study participants defeminized cooking by equating cooking to fixing stuff in the garage. Or equating cooking to a hobby. All of these participants also treated cooking as a chore that had to be done.
However, we do see male participants who embrace the traditionally feminine aspects of cooking. Most of these participants draw on the nurturing aspects of their cooking in interviews. One participant discussed how “Cooking for loved ones… especially a husband who appreciates your food, is ‘satisfying,’” and many of these participants who “had experience cooking for others regularly, talked about cooking as a way of nurturing, connecting, or expressing love and care” (Szabo).
I know that in this hyper-masculine world more men can learn from these outlier participants. So many of us guys can get wrapped up in society’s demand for us to be stoic and reliable, not bad qualities by themselves, but unfortunately at the cost of us being emotionally sensitive.
So here is a mission for my fellow guys: when you have to cook a meal, find a way to make it nurturing for yourselves, and for others. Maybe find a signature dish. One that you can modify and modularize for others’ tastes and diets.
Mine is seared salmon and pasta. Need to make it more healthy? I use zucchini pasta instead. I have a vegan or vegetarian friend coming for dinner? I grill some king oyster mushrooms to replace the salmon. Is Salmon too expensive for your budget? A chicken breast never fails.
And guys, when you get wrapped up in technique, artistry, and precision, use that neurotic energy to make the best damn meal that can say “I love you”.
Michelle Szabo (2014) Men nurturing through food: Challenging gender dichotomies around domestic cooking, Journal of Gender Studies, 23:1, 18-31, DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2012.711945