This issue of the Portland-based feminist magazine tackles women’s food production and consumption roles. What is refreshing about this magazine is that many of its contributors take on a scholarly approach, calling on histories, data and stakeholders’ interviews to challenge the readers’ existing knowledge of the topics at hand. Yet the articles are not typical of scholarly papers—incessant and sometimes sleep-inducing. Most stories run only a couple of pages, an appropriate length for a casual read over a cup of coffee.
The piece that I find most intriguing is about a group of women who quit their jobs to collect, categorize and utilize coupons in the most efficient and tactical ways coupons can possibly be used. The larger issue revolving around couponing is that it challenges the age old idea of shopping as trivia and the women responsible for it as frivolous and wasteful. Full-time couponers demonstrate wisdom and economic muscle, no less than the working women, and as a result they save thousands on child care, commuting, and grocery bills yearly. Most importantly, couponing proves the economic value of household chores that is so often ignored by the tax-paying segment of society. How homemaking is different for these women compared to their home bound mothers and grandmothers is that it has become a financially viable choice as opposed to a duty imposed upon them. But what I wish the author had also discussed is the types of food discounts available on the coupons. My fear is that the choices are limited to nutrients-deficient processed food and that couponing further drives the domestic diet towards a high-in-sodium/fat one if modernity hadn’t already done that. In other words, couponing isn’t as empowering as it appears to be. Instead, it has given manufacturers and retailers more intimate control over where consumers spend their buck.
Another piece worth deliberating is the death of homemade meal as a result of women’s liberation. The writer links it to the post-war modernism belief that technology is the key to achieve social improvements. Convenience and efficiency were prized and sold to families in the form of wartime innovations like household appliances and ready-to-eat food. The reason the latter became successful, besides convenience, was the hygiene fetish of the time, in reaction to the outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Supermarkets’ sterile food prepared with chemicals was seen safer to eat than fresh produces. Unfortunately, the writer’s failure to discuss other reactions to these new technologies, such as rejection or consumption in ways unintended by the creators, suggests that women in the early twentieth century were vulnerable subjects of political agenda and market trends, rather than individuals who could independently weigh the values of tradition, nutrition and taste against convenience.
But besides the lack of an alternative view in some of the articles—perhaps an editorial decision to keep them short and approachable—this issue of Bitch pushes its readers to think hard about present day’s food phenomenon and their underlying gender issues that are not always obvious to the casual readers.