Through the Kitchen Window
edited by Arlene Voski Avakian
1997. 315 pages.
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"My mother was a hungry woman. She relatedto foodwith a sensuality which disguised and fended off deeper yearnings"
"Some June...when the rigors of the academic year are over , I would like to invite the women's studies scholars I know to a banquet where we would cook and serve things like Emily Dickinson's bread and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's pudding..."
-Barbara Haber (curator of books at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library)
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Reading Through the Kitchen Window is like grazing a buffet table spread with a incredible variety of sumptuous dishes; it's a collection twenty-seven essays written by women who are writers, each one serving up her own unique musing on the subject of food. (Most women also include a personal recipe.) This gives you an idea of the range: a playwright imagines larger scripts encoded in her mother's faded elliptical jottings next to recipes; a former welfare mother and single mom describes the grim reality of making do with food stamps.
It's not surprising that a number of these essays are set in kitchens. "My mother moved in majesty within our small kitchen, her woman's room," writes an African-American college professor in a loving tribute to her mother, who, like black women of the last generation, had few spheres of influence and outlets for creativity in the world outside their own homes. The kitchen is by no means a haven for every woman. "The kitchen was expected to be my mother's domain though she was not happy inhabiting that space," a writer says of her mother who felt constricted in her domestic role and her marriage. Poet Marge Piercy envisions the kitchen as a site for rebellion: "All over America women are burning dinners,.." begins her poem.
The most vivid and personal currency of one's cultural heritage is food. Here you'll find reminiscences of women who live on American soil, but whose culinary roots spread from Russia to Trinidad to Malaysia. Their memories are so vivid you can almost smell what's on the stove and taste what's on the table. One woman who was raised in Bombay sees food as a way of "returning home through the taste buds."
I hate the way our society is fixated on food as this rigid either/or proposition: a means of self-indulgence or a means of self-denial. Most of the articles I see about food focus on eating (or not eating) as a means to achieve an impossible body ideal. What I love about Through the Kitchen Window is that it breaks out of the narrow confines of these attitudes. The stories of the women in this book remind us that there are many other ways of thinking about food.