Feminist adventures in food preservation

This weekend, my friend Amber and I (with a guest appearance by my housemate Carolyn) tried our hand at canning for the first time. It was my first time canning anything, and Amber’s first time canning tomatoes (she’s made jams before). We also made refrigerator pickles using this recipe(thanks Ann!).
Food is becoming a recurring theme of my posts here at Feministing. It’s occurred to me (thanks to some conversations with Jos) that I’ve never really explained why it’s a feminist issue. Well, when I spent the better part of my Saturday doing something that felt more like grandma’s past time than a feminist one, it really got me thinking about feminism and food.
I think the politics of food are pretty clear. The way we eat is manipulated and controlled by big business, the media, the fashion industry, television, advertising companies, even the government has a say. Feminists have long been pushing back on the representation of women’s bodies in pop culture and the pressures we face to look and eat a certain way.
Food has historically been a woman’s domain–at least the preparation of it. Part of the feminist revolution was challenging the inequitable division of household labor–including food preparation. Convenience foods, prepared dinners, are all linked to the new reality of multiple working parents. But they aren’t only a result of this–let’s not blame feminists for TV dinners just yet. This food industry is also about finding a way to make more money off of food. Processing food is a big business. It adds value to foods that wouldn’t have been there before and it creates thousands of new products to sell. We’re seeing the results of this high fructose corn syrup fueled industry now–we’re feeling it in our health and our economy, not to mention our environment. It’s not just about convenience–it’s also about cash. I don’t think the food politics movement needs to send women back into the kitchen–unless they want to be there. For our nation to eat healthy, we ALL need to be cooking, and thinking about what foods we eat.
I’ve been inspired by much of what I’ve read and seen about the industrialization of food to take things down a few notches. Shopping at the farmer’s market for one, thinking about where my food and veggies come from, trying to pick things that are freshest and most local. I live in a seasonal climate–my farmer’s market only lasts until Thanksgiving. Facing the prospect of winter without the yummy fresh veggies I’ve been enjoying all summer, I realized (with a little nudging from Barbara Kingsolver) that canning was my only way to guarantee I could eat local veggies this winter.
So my canning adventure! It’s hard work friends, no doubt about it, but for one day of hard labor in the kitchen I could have enough tomatoes to cook with all winter, until next year’s crop. Amber and I also canned some salsa and I’m looking forward to tasting that come December.
A few tips for those of you who might be canning inclined after the jump.

-It’s only worth it at the height of tomato season, which for us in DC was about two weeks ago. At the height of the season tomatoes are cheapest at the market and most likely ripe and ready for canning.
-Buy A LOT of tomatoes! And buy seconds, if you can. Seconds are the farmer’s tomatoes that are a little bruised, split or with bad parts. They sell for much cheaper and are great for canning because you can cut those bits off. If you buy in bulk also you get a better deal. Amber and I bought 20 pounds of tomatoes and I wish we had bought 80. The 20 lbs only made us 6 quarts of canned tomatoes and 6 pints of salsa. If you want to can sauce, you’ll need way more tomatoes than that.
-Get a basic canning kit and a BIG pot. You’ll need them.
-Have left over jars? They’re great for making refrigerator pickles or storing bulk stuff like rice and pasta.

Join the Conversation

  • DeafBrownTrash

    cool post, Miriam, I hope you’ll write more about food politics. I actually never thought about food politics until you brought it up. I can also see how this is a feminist issue. It’s empowering for women and men to take matters into their own hands, cook for themselves and not have to buy awful, processed crap from corporations. It’s also about being healthy and not having to worry about possible future health problems.
    I wish I could have a vegetable garden in my backyard but I can’t, because there are deers who always come in from the woods and eat everything… lol

  • FrumiousB

    It’s a common misconception that high-fructose corn syrup is all that much higher in fructose than corn syrup would normally be. Corn syrup is naturally a mix of fructose and sucrose, a fact that gets left out in tests comparing how we metabolize pure fructose to pure sucrose. High-fructose corn syrup is also a mix of sucrose and fructose – with slightly more fructose, but not that much.
    The history of standardization of food processing is pretty interesting. In its day, it was a feminist issue in that it presented housewives with a chance to attend lectures and educate themselves and the development of kitchen science was led by women. The first recipe books with exact measurements came out out of the attempt to standardize food preparation and provide nutritious meals at low cost. It was a short ideological step from there to Kraft cheese. They did have some wacky ideas about nutrition back then, but they made the attempt to systematize meal planning.
    I view some of these DIY food adventures with a bit of a jaundiced eye. I’m not saying you shouldn’t can your own tomatoes or make your own mayonaise. It’s just that given the current division of household labor, I just see a whole lot more housework for women who are already carrying most of the load.

  • http://the-f-word.org Rachel

    I’m a feminist food historian, so I’m glad to see more talk of the intersection of feminism and food politics here. Food studies emerged as a distinct (and largely male-dominated) field in the 1990s, and it has only been in the past decade that there has been a focused gendered or feminist perspective on how foodways contribute to constructions of gender and gender hierarchies. If you’re interested in reading more on feminist food studies, I’ve compiled the Feminist Food Studies Bookshelf and Online Resources for Feminist Food Studies and Ecofeminism.

  • Av0gadro

    I’m passionate about food, and I love everything about it, but I do sometimes feel funny about spending so much time in the kitchen.
    There’s something deeply satisfying about growing tomatoes and preserving them, but when I spend all day in a hot kitchen with an apron, it does feel weirdly traditional. My husband does a fair amount of the day to day cooking, but the big hard tasks are always mine. Which is fair, because I’m the one who loves it. But it feels like something I’m worried about modeling for my kid.

  • Miriam

    Thanks Rachel! Those are some great resources. I would love to see more community blogging on feminist food history, if you are so inclined to cross-post on the community blog.

  • nestra

    You need to pack your tomatoes tighter and watch your headspace. There’s not supposed to be that much liquid in the can.

  • monkeyhaterobot

    Wow, that is so…cool! Thank you for sharing your resources. I have been trying to figure out how I can combine food & feminism other than making awesome food, haha.
    I have thought of being a food anthropologist, this has given me new direction and motivation to further my interest and fascination with humans and food to turn it to a more feminist approach.

  • cherylboberyl

    not to mention that the majority of agricultural labor around the world is done by women..
    also, i love this post.

  • Hara

    I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tunafish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock. ~Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

  • http://the-f-word.org Rachel

    If you’re interested in food anthropology, check out this great link of resources or for a work with a more feminist flair, Carole Counihan’s The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power (1999).


    You’re exactly right – this whole ‘slow food’ movement, it’s attack on convenience food and it’s glorification of labor intensive antiquated food preparation methods is objectively sexist.
    As we all know, most housework is done by women, and men (especially men in domestic partner relationships with women) do not do their fair share of housework.
    So, anything that increases the amount of housework that is supposed to be done will fall hard on the shoulders of women.
    So, a campaign that demands that convenience food be renounced and people go back to canning their own food is, as a practical matter, a demand that WOMEN will be sent back into the kitchens to do all of this laborious hand work (while the menfolk sit in front of the TV or the computer).
    Women are going to the the ones subject to massive guilt tripping if they don’t live up to this new standard of intensive, time consuming hand kitchen work, not men.
    In other words, processed foods are, objectively, feminist and home canning is, objectively, misogynist.


    I really don’t see what’s so “feminist” about you doing most of the cooking, while your husband does the easy tasks.
    Sounds like a modern day version of good old fashioned traditional values sexism – wife in the kitchen while the husband sits in front of the TV and/or the computer.
    Also, I really don’t understand the ‘satisfaction’ of doing stoop labor farmwork – my ancestors in North Carolina got kidnapped to this country to do that drudgery and thank God I’m 3 generations away from the cotton fields and have never done a minute of farm work in my life!
    I do hard physical labor at work – and get paid very well for it – and I would NEVER do that stuff for free on my own time!

  • Marc

    Hey, jackass, how about you stop attacking other people’s relationships and labeling them as not being feminist just because one of the two partners has more of a passion for cooking than the other.
    What you like and what you see as being fun may not be the same as someone else’s. Rather than calling their arrangement for the division of labor sexist, perhaps you ought to stop and think that she might have CHOSEN to be in the kitchen because it makes her happy.
    Not everything in life is about you or what makes YOU happy. Looks like the other sexist one here is you, who thinks through male lens of what work ought to be and whether cooking is fun.

  • Darkmoon

    Wow, thanks for the pickle recipes! I love pickles and it should be interesting to see how well I can make my own.

  • teakate.wordpress.com

    It took a minor miracle to finally sign in for comments, alas I’m here (with stuff to say!)
    Miriam! I’m totally with you on the canning thing. About to take my first shot at jam this weekend, and canned tomatoes with some friends two weeks ago (my first time, not theirs.) Having a deeper relationship with our food makes me happier. I loved Animal Vegetable Miracle, too!
    As for some of the comments sprouting up about homemade/handmade/DIY laborious tasks being anti-feminist, convenience foods as the feminist option…these seem rather narrow-minded considering that levels of kitchen involvement depend wholly on the individual and don’t take into account those of us who enjoy making our own bread or canning tomatoes.
    I don’t do the daily cooking in my two-woman, lesbian household (it’s too overwhelming for me, not easy at all); I do bake bread and aspire to make jam. Applying broad assumptions to divisions of labor in a partnership must also include the individuals’ perceptions of and relationship to the tasks at hand.