Can We Stop Romanticizing The Role Of Women In The Kitchen?

A substantial portion of an Indian woman’s life is spent in feeding the family, and this responsibility restricts her opportunity to do something more productive and meaningful with her time.

“Instead of purchasing food from restaurants through ‘swiggy’ and ‘zomato’, let the children taste the delicious food made by their mother and let the children play at play grounds at that time and come back home to the mesmerizing smell of mother’s food. I leave it there to the wisdom of parents of minor children.”

This observation was not made, as might be supposed, by a group of women gossiping about how their daughters-in-law didn’t feed their grandchildren the way they fed their children. This observation was made by Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan of the Kerala High Court, while giving a ruling on something that had nothing to do with children or their nutrition.

In a case where he was required to rule on whether watching pornographic videos on one’s own phone could constitute an offence of obscenity under IPC. But the High Court Judge chose to take the opportunity to offer unsolicited advice to parents of minor children.

One could argue that cautioning parents (and guardians) about giving their children (or wards) unrestricted access to the internet could come under the broad ambit of the judgement. Offering advice on how children should spend their time and what they should eat was certainly way beyond his brief.

There are primarily two things wrong in the comments

Yet, he did so, because motherhood is so romanticized in India, that nobody thinks there is anything wrong in expecting mothers to conform to the stereotype.

Judge Kunhikrishnan makes two sweeping assumptions which are misogynistic in nature.

  • The first is that “fresh, homecooked meals” are a basic requirement in every household.
  • And the other is the expectation that it is the mother who should provide it.

Indian women spend more time in the kitchen than anyone else

In a global survey where over 27,000 respondents from 22 countries were interviewed to learn more about their cooking habits; it was found that Indians spend 13.2 hours in the kitchen every week—which was the highest among all the countries on the list.

These findings are not unsurprising, because the basic expectation in most Indian households is that all three meals should be prepared from scratch every day. Unlike in other countries, the emphasis on “fresh” food is so great that Indians rarely cook and freeze in large batches.

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Unlike in Western countries, the concept of “ready to eat” food is also largely absent in India. While you can find precooked food on supermarket shelves, it is an extremely niche market—one that most families avoid.

Grinding masalas by hand is not romantic

Over the last two decades, cooking pastes (ginger-garlic paste and tomato purée) and blended masalas have finally taken over our pantry, thereby reducing the time spent in the kitchen. Yet, even now, you will find both men and women romanticizing grinding masalas and pastes by hand, and bemoaning how packaged masalas never taste as good freshly ground ones.

While nobody denies the fact that food prepared at home is likely to be more healthy than food that is ordered from restaurants, it is time society stopped passing a moral judgement on people who “order from Swiggy and Zomato”.

Once families start ordering meals on a regular basis (instead of as a treat, or as a top-up to an existing meal). There will automatically be a spurt in the number of people supplying nutritious meals cooked in hygienic conditions which simulate those of a home kitchen.

It is because of insufficient demand that there are not as many such suppliers as there could be (many migrant labourers. For instance, eat “home-cooked” food supplied by a lady in the neighbourhood- why should this not be the norm for other families which de-emphasis cooking at home?).

Cooking is a gender-agnostic skill, though we assign the task to women

The second issue is the expectation that it is the mother who is responsible for creating the “mesmerizing smell” of home-cooked food. Cooking, like most other household skills, should be gender agnostic. If a household decides to cook most of the meals at home, the responsibility of preparing the meals should be a shared responsibility.

Sadly, this is rarely the case.

Even young men in their 20s and early 30s take immense pride in stating that they cannot even boil an egg. The existence of cheap labour in our cities ensures that even the occupants of bachelor (or other all-male) establishments enjoy home-cooked food. It also ensures that men grow up thinking that there is no need for them to learn to cook.

Once they get married, these men assume that their wives take over the responsibility of ensuring there is food on the table, and the vicious cycle continues.

The division of labour is unequal

Again, some may argue that it should be left to individual couples to mutually decide on the division of responsibilities (including cooking). The reality is that as long as society expects women to be responsible for cooking and feeding a family, an unfairly large part of this responsibility will continue to be borne by women.

A substantial portion of an Indian woman’s life is spent ensuring that the family is fed, and this responsibility restricts her opportunity to do something more productive and meaningful with her time. This can only be changed gradually by teaching the next generation that cooking is gender agnostic and that it is not essential that all meals should be “fresh” or “home-cooked”.

Most importantly, it is essential that society stops passing a moral judgment on women who choose not to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the kitchen; statements like the ones uttered by Justice Kunhikrishnan neutralise any small gains that we may have made.


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Image source: Istock, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

94 Posts | 110,148 Views

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