One of my favorite hobbies is reading food blogs. I am passionate about desserts, and I spend much of my time baking and taking pictures of my creations. When I was growing up, baking was something I picked up from my step-mother, who loved all kinds of “women’s work” such as cooking, baking, sewing and knitting. While my mother identified as a feminist of a generation that broke away from housewifery and did not pick up any “womanly” crafts, my step-mother saw cooking and baking as “food for the soul.”
Today my mother regrets not learning anything “housewifery” from her mother and has learned to enjoy having me baking every week, although she also complaints about the lack of “healthy options” when it comes to sweets.
In my reading of food blogs, I have found that they are attracting large audiences not necessarily defined by gender. Unlike sewing-blogging, which remains predominantly female, food-blogging has become less of a “womanly” thing; for instance, now there are by and for men, dedicated to convincing men that they can cook or those which cater to men who already like the craft. Since I have been entertaining the idea of having a food blog, I have been shopping for ideas on how to merge my multiple identities as a Muslim convert, as a Latin American woman and a feminist, without being cheesy or preachy.
Muslim women from all around the world have been writing for years about recipes and food. Today you can find plenty of blogs featuring Muslim writers discussing recipes from all over the world. Last Ramadan, MMW featured post by several of our writer who shared their favorite Ramadan recipes. While Anike invited us to explore Nigerian cuisine, Merium took us back to her childhood in Buenos Aires through Pakistani food. Likewise, Tasnim, who enjoys blogging about Libyan food, presented us with her iftar menu, and I brought back an old Mexican-Lebanese recipe for the holidays.
Muslim foodie bloggers these days seem to be trying a variety of things, mixing and matching from various cultures both within and outside the Muslim world. From Muslim Indian recipes to English cooks preparing “Muslim mince pies,” recipe bloggers are more willing to open up and try new things that resonate with their particular lifestyle (i.e. those who follow halal rules). Thus, we find everything from Western bloggers discussing South-Asian recipes and bloggers finding ways to reinvent “halal” cuisine to those who are trying to recover the culinary glory of Muslim Spain or explore vegan diets while being Muslim.
Something that I constantly find in some of these blogs is the common link between cooking, womanhood and housewifery. Family is also thrown in the mix, along with fashion and parenting, as if all these things were links to Muslim women’s broader purposes in life. I also find that Muslim converts are particularly strong in making connections in their blogs between their cooking and their roles as wives, mothers, Muslims and as converts. I don’t know why this is, but perhaps these converts are better in articulating their experiences and choices through food.
At the same time, the food blogosphere is also attracting Muslim men. Part of this phenomenon seems to be that Muslim men are now leaving alone either as a students or expatriates; thus, cooking becomes a necessity. Guy-cooks are participating online not only by commenting in blogs, but also by having their own outlets; for instance, A Cooking Guide for the Single Muslim Guy or Youtube videos teaching men that Muslim Men Can Cook.
Unlike sources specifically targeting Muslim men, many female writers often identify their blogs as portals to the lives of mothers and wives who can not only dispel misconceptions about Islam but also teach and direct others towards the “proper” ways of managing a household.
I don’t think much of this. Call me crazy, but frustration with the association of the “domestic” with the “womanly” is something I think I may have inherited from my mom. I do not see cooking as “my” role as a woman and I definitely don’t see myself as a perfect prospective wife just because I enjoy greasing baking pans and frying stuff. As happy as I am to “recover” the lost “sciences” of domestic work in the modern time, I see it more of a skill that we could ALL use rather than a gender-prescribed role. Moreover, I definitely don’t see it as a gender role that Islam has brought along to my life. While this is not the place for theological discussions, few Islamic sites often refer to men equally sharing household responsibilities based on the Prophet’s Sunnah (i.e. here, here and here).
I am continuing my search for the ideal blend of Muslimness and Latin-Americaness with just the right touch of feminism and femininity. I am hoping to find and create a cuisine blog that caters to an audience broader than wives and mothers while still caring for those who are looking for halal recipes and multi-cultural cuisine ideas.