The chapter analyses food preparation and meals in Western Europe between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, focusing on their gendered dimension. Thanks to a variety of sources, three main variables are considered: social stratification, geography and time. Others, such as religion, will only be mentioned in passing. After providing a survey of the topic and synthetic information on the state of research, the chapter first illustrates that not every house had a kitchen or a fireplace. The poor, especially in cities, might not have been able to afford a dwelling where one could cook. In certain regions, however, particularly, it seems, in Mediterranean Europe, eating on the streets, in taverns or at open-air working places such as fields or construction sites was widespread and not necessarily a sign of poverty. Furthermore, even families which usually cooked at home occasionally bought a proportion of the food they ate from a market. In lower- and middle-class families that prepared meals at home cooking was generally a female task, performed by family members or by servants. Things were different in upper-class households. This chapter argues that in early modern times, the cooks employed at the courts and by the aristocracy in Italy, Spain and France were generally men; a feminization of the preparation of food started in France from the eighteenth century onwards. In central and northern Europe, upper-class women were much more involved in the preparation of food, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the popularity of French cuisine led to a growing recourse to male cooks. This contribution attempts to explain these differences and trends over time and discusses the role of nurturing and cooking in the definition of female identity in different contexts. Secondly, a brief outlook on breastfeeding will show that particularly upper-class women entrusted their babies to wet-nurses, increasingly abandoning this practice from the eighteenth century onward, and probably earlier in Northern Europe. At the same time, it became more common among the lower classes, especially factory workers. Finally, the chapter addresses meals in a gendered perspective, arguing that they were not necessarily occasions for families to meet. In upper-class families each member could eat in their own rooms while lower-class and peasant families often lacked a sufficient number of tables and chairs. When they came together, not all family members had the right to eat sitting around the table, women and children often being prevented from being seated. In any case, places around the table generally displayed age and gender hierarchies within families, and servants were often not allowed to eat with their masters’ families. A variety of different food cultures emerges from this analysis. While gender proves to be crucial anywhere and at any time, its actual role depended on specific social, cultural, historical and geographical contexts.

"Food preparation and meals in a gendered perspective"

Raffaella Sarti
2020-01-01

Abstract

The chapter analyses food preparation and meals in Western Europe between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, focusing on their gendered dimension. Thanks to a variety of sources, three main variables are considered: social stratification, geography and time. Others, such as religion, will only be mentioned in passing. After providing a survey of the topic and synthetic information on the state of research, the chapter first illustrates that not every house had a kitchen or a fireplace. The poor, especially in cities, might not have been able to afford a dwelling where one could cook. In certain regions, however, particularly, it seems, in Mediterranean Europe, eating on the streets, in taverns or at open-air working places such as fields or construction sites was widespread and not necessarily a sign of poverty. Furthermore, even families which usually cooked at home occasionally bought a proportion of the food they ate from a market. In lower- and middle-class families that prepared meals at home cooking was generally a female task, performed by family members or by servants. Things were different in upper-class households. This chapter argues that in early modern times, the cooks employed at the courts and by the aristocracy in Italy, Spain and France were generally men; a feminization of the preparation of food started in France from the eighteenth century onwards. In central and northern Europe, upper-class women were much more involved in the preparation of food, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the popularity of French cuisine led to a growing recourse to male cooks. This contribution attempts to explain these differences and trends over time and discusses the role of nurturing and cooking in the definition of female identity in different contexts. Secondly, a brief outlook on breastfeeding will show that particularly upper-class women entrusted their babies to wet-nurses, increasingly abandoning this practice from the eighteenth century onward, and probably earlier in Northern Europe. At the same time, it became more common among the lower classes, especially factory workers. Finally, the chapter addresses meals in a gendered perspective, arguing that they were not necessarily occasions for families to meet. In upper-class families each member could eat in their own rooms while lower-class and peasant families often lacked a sufficient number of tables and chairs. When they came together, not all family members had the right to eat sitting around the table, women and children often being prevented from being seated. In any case, places around the table generally displayed age and gender hierarchies within families, and servants were often not allowed to eat with their masters’ families. A variety of different food cultures emerges from this analysis. While gender proves to be crucial anywhere and at any time, its actual role depended on specific social, cultural, historical and geographical contexts.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11576/2681828
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