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Women, Cooking and the Vote

I know what you’re thinking. You all come to me for my thoughts on food and wellness, not politics. Well, take a deep breath. This isn’t about party or politics. It’s about food, women and the fight we fight every day.

It was November, 1970. I was 15, a good kid, but rebellious. My mother, a dyed in the wool hippie had embedded rebellion in my DNA. Since I was old enough to walk, my mother had toted me along to marches for causes too numerous to mention. I have photos of little me holding signs that read things like, “Don’t pollute my water.” “Don’t drop bombs on me.” “Equality for All.”

My mother was off to vote, a right she was fiercely proud to exercise. She pointed out to me that women had only had the right to vote for 50 years at that moment. What? Only 50 years? How was that even possible in this democracy of ours?

My mother’s causes and her life credo was that if you weren’t of service in life, what was the point? That was only matched by her passion for cooking fresh food (far from vegan, but always fresh…).

One of the “perks” of my work is that people send me cookbooks. Most of them don’t subscribe to my life’s mission, but as a cookbook author I am always respectful of the time and work an author puts into writing a book.

The book that arrived in my office today made me think of my mother and how she lived her life. It’s a book put out by The Rider University Women’s Leadership Council. It’s raising money for scholarships for women.

In the book, a timeline of women’s fight for the vote details the struggle. It’s hard to believe that women have only had the right to vote for 100 years in a democracy like ours, but it’s true.

A little education: the quest for the vote began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton along with Susan B. Anthony . It would take years and trials we can’t imagine for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to be ratified into law, giving all women the right to vote in 1920.

Seventy-two years of struggle; hunger strikes, beatings and jail time for suffragettes, who were also disdained by family and abandoned by spouses and their government. I

n 1911, the Anti-Suffrage Movement was founded by a woman, Josephine Dodge, on the premise that women did not want the right to vote. Sadly, she had widespread support for a while.

While 1920 was a resounding victory, it would take another 45 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed ensuring all people, women, men and people of color had the right to vote. (Of course that law was gutted in 2013 the Supreme Court deemed a section of the law to be unconstitutional; the part that protected voters in states where voter suppression was common.)

So why the history lesson and what does this have to do with food?

In the foreword of the book, an alumnus writes that for decades, women have been considered the home makers, cooks, nurturers; nothing more. Before the 19th century, the life of a woman was more like hard labor. “Women’s work” was their lot in life; there was no choice. Unless they came from a family of means, women had little access to “bettering themselves.” They worked like indentured servants and they were rarely, if ever, taken seriously.

The Philadelphia New Century Club came on the scene in the 19th century, encouraging free thinking, creativity and charitable work among women. This seemed to have led to the creation and production of community cookbooks, where women shared recipes under the guise of fundraising for good causes. An important tool of communication, these cookbooks allowed women (beginning with the suffragette movement) to share information, usually in hidden messages, sarcasm and encouragement to keep fighting for the cause.

The Suffrage Cook Book, first published in 1915, contained such a recipe. It was called, “Pie for a Suffragette’s Doubting Husband.” It talked about mixing the ingredients “with tact and velvet gloves, especially with the upper crust. Upper crusts must be handled with extreme care for they quickly sour if manipulated roughly.” They were covert geniuses.

Food has always served as the common thread of coming together, of understanding, of community, of family, of life. Cooking and nourishing, while no longer considered “women’s work,” comforts us in times of joy and trial. Just look at the importance cooking and nourishing has taken on now as we try to survive this global pandemic. People who never cooked are cooking; families are gathering around the table. While the pandemic rages, many people, stuck at home for safety have made lemonade out of these pretty sour lemons we have been handed in life. We are looking to create health in the kitchen, trying to make our bodies metabolically fit to fight disease.

Back in the day, cooking was considered the domain of women. Now we know that regardless of who does the cooking, life is created in the kitchen and the quality of that life is determined by what we choose to cook and eat.

Before the pandemic, we took cooking and nurturing for granted, just as women and the work they did was taken for granted (and often still is, even today). Now we fight the good fight in the kitchen.

Today, many of us take the right to vote for granted. We decide voting doesn’t matter. We grow complacent with our hard-won right to vote. But voting is how we are heard by our government…our government. Never forget that. We vote for the kind of leadership we want; for the direction we want our democracy to take.

My mother was a modern-day suffragette in that she took her right to vote as a sacred vow, not to be missed or trivialized. She believed in creating a more compassionate world based on equality for all.

In my view, just as anyone is welcome at our tables, we are all welcome…no, we are obligated to participate in creating the country we want to live in. Remember that while peaceful protest can bring attention to injustice, only voting can change how our government works for us.

While the book is far from vegan, there are a couple of vegan recipes in it. Here is one simple one I thought I would share. The recipes in the book are simple and accessible and sooooo easy to vegan-ize.

Kale Chips

3-4 leaves fresh kale, rinsed well, patted dry, broken into bit-size pieces

3 tablespoons avocado or extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350oF and line a baking sheet with foil. Lightly oil the foil.

Clean and dry the kale and break into pieces.

Place kale in a large mixing bowl and add balance of ingredients, using salt and garlic powder to taste. Toss well to coat the kale.

Arrange kale on lined baking sheet, avoiding overlap and bake for about 8 minutes, or until crisp, but not burnt.

Cook’s Tip: You can vary the seasonings as you like, using the spices that you like best.

Vegan or not, whether you like the recipes or not, this is an investment worth making to ensure women can continue to pursue their dreams of education. (www,rider.edu?cookbook or 609-896-5000, ext. 7032)

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