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Liberating the Recipe:
A study of the recipe form in feminist magazines and newsletters of the 1970s

Laurel Forster

In the consciousness-raising seventies, many areas of life underwent exposure, debate, and challenge: one such area was the domestic sphere.

Long-standing debates surrounding housework, childcare, and domestic duties like cooking, were given a higher profile in the seventies and became heavily contested in various arenas. Whilst some social commentators sought to expose this unseen work as a mode of patriarchal oppression, preventing women from obtaining alternative, paid employment, other Marxist-feminists contested that this work at home deserved recognition and payment.

Feminist magazines such as Red Rag, The Shrew and Spare Rib represented the new radical zeitgeist; they sought to offer information, advice and a 'call to arms' for women to insist on equal rights at home and in the workplace. Articles on contraception and abortion appear next to debate about working mothers and socialism. Many articles tackled the thorny issue of waged or 'valued' housework, arguing that domestic labour was masked by the social expectations of being a caring wife or mother. In particular, cookery, which strangely combines hard work with artistic and emotional expression, is a good example of the complexities inherent in such seemingly-natural female duties. Some articles sought to demystify family cookery, allowing men insight into the workings of the home kitchen. In doing so, cooking became emblematic of the complex political exchange between feminists and the traditional status quo. It provided an optimistic medium through which knowledge could be exchanged and prejudices debunked, meanwhile promoting the kitchen as potential neutral territory in the much anticipated realignment between men and women.

This paper will consider the politicised role of food and cookery within this radical climate, using examples from feminist magazines of the seventies and comparing these with the conventional modes of media presentation of food through television programmes and cook books. From this, it will be seen how recipes and cooking instruction became a complex form of communication and negotiation between the sexes in this radical decade.

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