What do the patriarchy and a steak have to do with each other ? Where are the female chefs hiding ? Is agriculture a men’s business ? ». These witty and assertive words are those of Nora Bouazzouni, french journalist and author of « Faiminisme, quand le sexisme passe à table » which could be translated to « Faiminism, sexism by the menu ». Nora writes like she speaks, sitting on her couch in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, a smoking cup in hand.
From domestic chores to female farmers, from the diet industry to sexism in professional kitchens, she dissects in an uncompromising way, from « Patriarchie Parmentier » to « Madame est asservie » (so many puns in french, sorry), why and how food and feminism are a tightly woven knit.
Hi Nora, could you start by introducing yourself, what you do and who you work for ?
My name is Nora Bouazzouni, I’m 31, and I’m a freelance journalist : I write about TV shows for Liberation and Slate. I am also a french-english translator, I work for the Dargo comics, for Buzzfeed and some brands. And well now I am also an author, this is my first book.
How did you come to write this book ?
I have been very vocal about feminism for a few years, and I love food, I love cooking and talking about it. That’s why my publisher Nourriturfu reached out. They wrote to me saying « We really like the way you write, that acidity, we have a theme and a title, do you want to write the book ? » It was « Faiminisme ».
I thought the idea was genius, to study sexism through the prism of food, but outside of what I talk about in the first chapter, that there’s less female than male chefs, or that at home women cook more often than men do, I had never really thought about it in depth.
From then on, how did you proceed ?
I wanted to write a short book, that doesn’t require any type of sociology or gender study baggage, no knowledge of gastronomy. I wanted my parents, who never studied, to be able to read it, understand the ideas, and for people who don’t feel concerned by this subject to be able to understand it, even if they don’t agree. Even myself, writing it, I had a lot of epiphanies.
Any example ?
When I discovered socio-anthropologist Priscilla Touraine’s book « Man big, woman small ». She explains that the reason men are taller than women is not biological but due to centuries of a nutritional confiscation of proteins, reserved to men for a long time. I thought « That’s not possible ! People have to know this ! ».
Reproductively speaking it doesn’t even make sense since we are the ones carrying the children so we should be bigger, taller, and be able to protect them.
Who is your book for : women, men, both ? Doesn’t your title run the risk of putting people off ?
I think everything starts with sisterhood. There’s a quote by Gerda Lerner in the book that says « The biggest success of the patriarchy is having divided women to better rule them ». If we don’t manage, women of all colors, all social classes, all sexualities, to come together and form a united front, we won’t make it.
That’s why my conclusion is a shout out to women and I totally stand by that choice, even though the rest of the book uses inclusive writing. Getting rid of our ideological walls starts with us.
Having said that, it is true that in all the book fairs I have done I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of men who even just took the book in their hand. I am surprised by the number of men who don’t even dare look me in the eye once they’ve seen the title. On the other hand, if they aren’t capable of showing interest in a topic that is universal I’m not sure a title would make a big difference.
What about the sarcastic tone and puns you use throughout the book, doesn’t it run the risk of losing you some credibility ?
Before anything else I should say that I write the way I speak. When I started I was using a serious tone but I was watching myself write : I felt stuck. I realized I wasn’t able to write in another voice than the way I talk when I talk about these topics. It’s a banality but you can say a lot of things with a little humor.
I’m aware that it can be a bit too much for some but for me it doesn’t take anything out of the work itself : I didn’t write a humoristical book.
Paradoxically I was also told I had used too many numbers. My book is extremely precise, documented, I rely on statistics and studies, it’s not a big joke.
In the end I wrote the book I wanted to read ; the data is depressing enough not to make it worse. When you look at sexist ads, the statistics in professional kitchens or the work conditions of female farmers in developing countries, you better have some sense of humor.
Are cooking and being a feminist still compatible ?
I start the book with an anecdote, that of actress Kaley Cuoco explaining that she is not a feminist because she loves cooking for her boyfriend, and feeling like a housewife. Saying this type of things today is impossible. My feminism is intersectional, inclusive, there’s no one way of being a feminist. In my home I am always the one cooking but I never thought « Fuck, where has my feminism gone ? ».
I want to show the plurality of this movement, that everything is connected. Look at ecology for example, if we don’t care about it here in France we are making things worse for women on the other side of the world, because they are the ones in charge of carrying the water, of gathering the wood. We can’t afford to have a feminism of the seventies, white and educated, anymore. Even if things aren’t great here, there are places where it’s much worse. You can’t denounce an oppression and support another.
At the same time I am opening the subject up for people to find an interest, for them to think « Ah, those ideologies can work together. ».
Nora's recipe is one I know and have made quite a few times : a kale salad more complex than it seems. It is composed of massaged raw kale (an acquired taste but any dark green will do, I believe spinach, chard, or even broccoli would work fine) paired with lemony creamy white beans, garlicky croutons and a sauce you will soon want to drizzle on everything - tahini, maple syrup, garlic and lemon.
The full recipe can be found on Dana Schultz's blog Minimalist Baker, a great resource for vegetarian and vegan recipes, by following this link.