As part of Food in the Public Square we have conducted two cooking workshops and one open forum. In terms of Latinos we have had participants coming from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Honduras, Ecuador, and Mexico. Only one out of 12 participants in our cooking workshops has been a man, which made us reflect about gender dynamics in the household. Traditionally women have been responsible for provisioning, cooking and cleaning. This is the case in most Latin American households. But how feasible is it to do so when women work outside their home? Do they just accept their double shift or do they try to modify this practice?
Based on the conversations we have had we see how that dynamic has changed. Women in their seventies who grew up in Latin America recalled that children, particularly older daughters, were expected to do housework. Growing up in big families, where there were more than six children, allowed mothers to divide tasks and therefore share the workload. Women in their fifties who live far away from their family mentioned how in the United States it is harder to keep the same structure. Their families are less numerous and women have to engage in paid work. Nevertheless, their husbands expect them to cook every day and to be in charge of housework. This is not always possible, so they had to rely on leftovers, prepare simple meals or buy processed or ready-made meals. However, some younger Latinos mention that they are trying to engage the whole family in cooking, which helps reduce the workload but also teaches children how to cook and reinforces family unity.
Achieving the American dream is not easy. The ideal of keeping a house clean and tidy and cook so the family can eat dinner together results a challenge. Moreover, in some cases dinner has to satisfy every palate, which in the United States is expected to be different. Children do not eat grown-up food, teenagers might be vegetarian or vegan, and the husband wants traditional dishes from their country of origin. Canned and processed food become part of daily life, and in some instances buying fast food allows families to eat on a reduced budget. Most first generation women face that paradox, should they work more hours to earn more money or spend that time cooking, cleaning and looking after their children instead. In most cases the need is bigger, so women end up working for money. Still the predicament of spending more or less time cooking is present, and it always come at a price. In a capitalist society in which time is money, we need to reconsider the value of cooking elaborate meals or growing our own food. Is this a privilege or a necessity?
Dr. Sandra Aguilar, Moravian College