KURVY HOME COOK ANGELA WALTERS DISCUSSES MAKING, EATING, AND LOVING FOOD
Julia Childs first graced the American television in 1962, laughing as she cooked up an omelette. Infamous now for her brash attitude and stocky build, Childs helped change the way American women were expected to appear in the kitchen. Childs didn’t fit the dainty housewife vision that Americans had become accustomed to— this view that women are expected to enjoy cooking for their families, with wide smiles and thin figures.
Angela Walters grew up in this type of household, and she hated working in the kitchen because of it. It wasn’t until a seventh grade home economics class that she realized the joy of cooking. “I had to make fried pork chops, gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans all by myself,” she recalls. But even then, it wasn’t until her late twenties, when she was free from the chore that was “forced on me for so long” that Walters truly began to enjoy cooking. She cooks all the time now, for her friends, coworkers and, most importantly, herself.
“Food brightens people’s lives… you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy it,” Walters says. Still, she doesn’t always love the process of putting a dish together. “If I feel like I have to cook the meal, I’m going to hate you, and you’re going to taste it.” When dating, Walters has frequently had men ask her if she can cook. She laughed as she told me that her answer is always, “Can you fix a car? Can you build a house?” If she’s expected to fill the laborious ‘role’ of her gender, she says, she’s going to hold her potential partners to the same standards.
Even though she still faces blatant sexism, Walters remembers that it was much worse in her childhood. Now, more men are in the home kitchen and more women in professional ones. And there’s been another shift, too: Walters recalls that she and many of her peers were raised to hold their feelings inside and to not talk about their problems. Now, she says, women are encouraged to build networks with one another, which allow them to address and discuss the issues that come with being female.
“We, as women, stand up and help each other,” she says, “because if we leave it to men, it’ll never get done.” These support systems have helped Walters with the judgement she faces over her weight, too. Doing something as simple as grocery shopping, she’s had to deal with encounters such as a strange old man peering into her shopping cart and remarking how surprised he was at her healthy choices, as if he expected her cart to be full of junk because of her appearance.
“One thing does not equal the other,” Walters says, referring to size and health. It took her a while to become comfortable with that idea, though; for a long time, she avoided eating in front of people, not wanting to deal with the judgements they projected onto her.
The kitchen holds a lot of baggage, Walters acknowledges. The tensions between the pleasure of food and the shame of eating, the love of cooking and the expectation of servitude, are crammed into the lowest kitchen drawer and shut there with obscure utensils and birthday candles. But that’s also where the secret lies, Walters thinks. There should be no degradation in a woman cooking for a man, so long as she is happy to do it and he appreciates it. “You don’t want to do what society tells you,” she says, “but it doesn’t make those things off-limits to feminists. After all, isn’t the point of equality to help everyone do what fills them with joy?”