In “The One Year Women in Christian History Devotional,” I wrote about mirrors. Let me explain why that's relevant here.
According to Madeleine L’Engle, one of the women in the book, caution should be taken as to whom you use as mirrors, the people you allow to “create a mental self-portrait of who you are and what you’re worth.”
The award-winning author of “A Wrinkle in Time” felt she wasn’t meeting the standards set for her by the other women in her community. She saw herself as a failure when she looked into their eyes for a reflection of herself. Eventually, she realized she was allowing the community at large to have too much influence over her own self-worth. She wrote in “A Circle of Quiet,” that she decided to be careful about choosing those she used as a mirror, saying she would use, “my husband; my children; my mother; the friends of my right hand.”
That insight from L’Engle had a profound impact on me as I realized that I, too, have allowed the community at large to influence what I felt I was worth. So I made a list of the people who legitimately got to be my mirrors instead of allowing everyone who had an opinion of me and my life to be my mirrors.
I thought about L’Engle’s insights yesterday when I read Virginia Heffernan’s “What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?” from The New York Times Magazine’s Food Issue. Heffernan, a mother, does not enjoy cooking and is perplexed, angered even, by the cooking-is-important and family-dinner-is-important messages of the past decade. She is unhappy with the “noble food philosophers” who preach “the retro virtues of slow, real food instead of the quickie, frozen stuff that once spelled liberation” to her.
These philosophers write what she has named “mother-cookbooks,” aimed at moms, not dads, that leave her with the message that a mom is to “trust no one, least of all yourself” when it comes to feeding her family. Who are these philosophers? She names a few specifically — Laurie David with her “The Family Dinner” and “The Family Cooks” books; Jenny Rosenstrach and “Dinner: A Love Story” book; and the authors of “Super Nutrition for Babies” and “Super Baby Food.”
She feels other women traitorously like to cook. Who are they betraying by liking to cook? Women and feminism. She views liking to cook the same as “not working and having no opinions and being everyone’s handmaiden.”
Ouch. If I allowed Heffernan, someone I don’t know personally but someone I would say is in one of my communities (we’re both mothers and writers), to be one of my mirrors, I could be feeling very badly about myself right now. I could be thinking that my enjoyment of cooking makes me less of a feminist, less of an independent woman and less of an independent thinker.
Fortunately, I don’t see Heffernan as a mirror. Her piece is a great read and gave me lots to think about. I don’t agree with all of it, but I certainly see some of her points. She has a great point when she mentions that Laurie David’s books make it clear that she has help cooking in the form of a family cook.
“Aha,” Heffernan writes, “the secret to 'The Family Cooks' is . . . the family cook.”
I point this out particularly, not because I have a problem with David, but rather because I admire her greatly. I love her books. I have taken advice from her books, during phone conversations when I’ve interviewed her, and from the few times we’ve met in person. Yet, I admit to having the same thought as Heffernan. Laurie has someone who cooks for her so it’s probably easier for her. There’s no way I can be held to that same standard.
Fortunately, Laurie is not one of my mirrors. She doesn’t know me well enough to be one, and I don’t know her well enough either. So, while I can read her books and understand the extremely high standards she has for the meals her family eats and the reasons for those standards, I can also be perfectly fine with not having the same exact ones.
I wonder if part of Heffernan’s frustration with these “noble food philosophers” and their “mother-cookbooks” is partly due to allowing them to be her mirrors. If that’s accurate, I’d encourage her to not give them that much influence over her self-image.
I’d encourage anyone to do the same. Eating healthy food is important, but striving for perfection will eventually lead the majority of us to failure. Do the best you can when it comes to feeding yourself and your family. Don’t allow books or articles or DIY blogs or Pinterest boards and the people who write and create them to make you feel inadequate. At least that’s how I handle it. And those who have the ability to do things to higher standards than mine, I say good for them.
Related on MNN:
- Jessica Seinfeld's latest cookbook encourages terrified cooks
- Have you discovered Noisetrade for free digital cookbooks yet?
- NYC launches campaign to improve girls' self-esteem