Why Don’t We See Men Frying Vadas In Oil Commercials On TV?

Why limit the task of home cooking to women when so many chefs are men? Whether one likes to cook or not is a personal choice!

“Mmmmm”, she said when the aroma of the piping hot brinjal sambhar wafted into her nose. As the super thin layer of oil from the tadka summersaulted seconds before she turned the stove off, her eyes were gleaming, as though they had been coated with a layer of the very same oil. She was practically salivating by the time the finely chopped coriander leaves were strewn all over.

However, unfortunately, there was a hierarchy that the family followed while eating. As expected, the entitled husband would eat first. Next in line were the sons. After the men’s appetites were satiated, the daughters and their grandmother would eat. Lastly, after ensuring that every member of the family had their fill, the scraps would be consumed by the daughter-in-law, whose wrinkled palms would have prepared the entire meal to begin with.

Now, that day wasn’t any different.

She stared at the pot longingly, as every family member ate to their heart’s content and went to wash their hands. Though grappling with hunger, she patiently waited for her turn. Ultimately, at the end of it, all that she had been left with was some cold rice, clumped together. There was no trace of the sambhar. Just a few dal stains on the sides of the vessel from the splattering that had happened while SHE had cooked. She wasn’t allowed to complain about it because that would just make her a selfish wife and a bad mother, wouldn’t it? Wasn’t she supposed to be the re-incarnation of Annapoorni, goddess of food and nourishment? Wasn’t she supposed to continually nourish, even at the cost of her own health?

The protagonist of this story wasn’t assigned a name because she isn’t one woman. She is representative of almost every woman who married into an Indian household. She is every woman who has sacrificed her meal to make sure her family goes to sleep well-fed. But the question is, why do we glorify the starvation of women? Why do we not make her meals, her dietary requirements and her culinary desires a priority?

Doesn’t everyone derive joy from food? Why, then, are only women expected to cook?

Indian people have a very vibrant relationship with food, with every region serving its own cuisine. From lip-smacking ‘Pazham Pori’ in Kerala to ‘Khar’ in Assam, our cuisine goes way beyond the stereotypical butter chicken and naan.

Indian gastronomy at its finest can be experienced during festivals. Modaks for Ganesha, seedai for Krishna, a myriad of sweets like pedas and laddus for Diwali, biryani for Ramzan and plum cake for Christmas. Families are all smiles on these holidays since they get to relax and devour delicacies that they have been craving all year.

But wait, is everyone really all smiles? What about those women in the kitchen who toil away from 4 a.m.? Though forced to exude joy on these auspicious days, women have been required to slog and stay mum in order to fulfil the desires of the rest of the family. Shouldn’t festivals mean a good time for everyone? This deprivation of comfort and pleasure on grounds of gender must come to an end.

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Discrimination pertaining to cooking starts at a very tender age. Girls are always told,” Start learning to cook now such that your in-laws don’t complain about your upbringing after you get married!” A healthier alternative to this would be to teach everyone, irrespective of gender, to cook since it is a rather essential life skill.

Inherent sexism in food-related ads

Why do we not see men frying vadas in the oil commercials on TV? Why do we only see moms feeding their children? In a very popular ad for instant breakfast food mixes, we see a woman with SIX arms, asking all her family members what they want to eat. “Dosa! Upma! Rava Idly! Vada!”, they all exclaim authoritatively, after which the woman scurries into the kitchen and uses her SIX arms to cater to all their needs using the brand’s line of instant mixes.

Ads of this kind are problematic on so many levels.

Firstly, why does a woman have to cater to the needs of each family member? Why are the other members of the family not pitching in? Even assuming a case of division of household labour wherein the woman is only assigned the duty of breakfast preparation (which we know is probably not the case), why are we extoling a woman who does so much work to the point where six arms are required for the actual completion of her task? Wasn’t the purpose of the product to make people’s lives easier? Why can we not just let women do whatever they can and want to, with the two hands that they have? The trope that women are better multitaskers is just a farce used to subject women to an increasing number of domestic chores.

Rarely discussed repercussions of the issue

Another less explored aspect is something that I myself was unaware of till I spoke to my friend’s mother. On days when she makes dosas, rotis or pooris, by the time she is done cooking for everyone, when it is finally her turn to eat, she feels nauseated from having smelled the item for so long while standing in the kitchen. Her appetite is curtailed and hence, she eats less than what she otherwise would have eaten.

Statistically, women are shown to have more lifestyle related disorders such as obesity when compared to men. This is because between juggling their careers and catering to their families’ whims and fancies, they barely get any time to focus on themselves. Women have also been the ones bearing most of the brunt of fat shaming and skinny shaming. They are shamed for eating a lot because for some odd reason only men are allowed to eat a lot. Yet, they are also supposed to eat enough to remain curvy, because who wants a skinny bride? Double standards aren’t new to women, but they must be eradicated.

Food is an integral component of our lives as humans as it plays a key role in our sustenance. So why limit the task of preparing it to one gender? When we see many male chefs blow people’s minds away at Michelin star restaurants, why not teach our sons the art of cooking? Whether one likes to cook or not is a personal choice. However, no one should be forced to cook day in day out while the other people just sit back and relax. The Indian woman’s relationship with food must be healed. Let her unleash her tastebuds and venture into a ‘teekha golgappa’ challenge like Taani did in ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’! Let her surrender to the mouth-watering taste of roadside bread pakora like Shruthi from ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’!

Image source: a still from The Great Indian Kitchen

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shreya krishnan

An engineering student with a thing for writing, I hope to become a force to reckon with in the world of media and journalism someday read more...

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