- Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T) (Feb. 1986)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374230757
- ISBN-13: 978-0374230753
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.6 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,936,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century Hardcover – Feb 1986
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More About the Author
About the Author
Laura Shapiro was on staff at Newsweek and is a contributor to the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Granta, and Gourmet. She is the author of Julia Child and Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I love to cook, but among other working moms I'm friends with, I'm the exception. Women either hate cooking, don't mind cooking but don't know what to fix, or just flat out don't know how to cook. An awful lot of my friends rely heavily on fast food or packaged meals on a regular basis to feed their kids. I have long thought that there was a place in the schools for a revival of home economics, done better than what I and my classmates got in 7th grade - one year divided into a semester of sewing (let me tell you, that didn't take - almost no one I can think of sews), 1/2 a semester of cooking, and 1/2 a semester of a combination "household economy" (budgeting, nutrition, etc.) and sex education unit. Our cooking teacher freely admitted she hated cooking (she also wasn't exactly informative in the sex ed component either - her advice was "wait until marriage" and she showed her own childbirth video in class, if you can believe that) and her own distaste for cooking certainly didn't help us learn. By the time I got to high school, home ec was the "easy A" class you only took if you weren't in the college prep track (we had three coursework tracks - college prep, A and B, and home-ec was in the "B", or lowest, track). That meant that myself and my fellow students got through 8th-12th grade, four years of college, and possibly grad school, our 7th grade home ec year was far behind us. I always felt like there had to be a better way to teach people about the necessary life skills of cooking, household management and nutrition - something that would be more practical and stick with people a little better.
Now, after reading Perfection Salad, I understand why my home-economics class was so worthless and I've changed my mind about reinstituting home ec into high schools - I think it would be a throwback to some very bad traditions that are better off left in the past.
Home economists were responsible for basically enslaving women in their homes - convincing women that the home and the kitchen was the only place they would find moral, religious, or emotional fulfillment; that they had no place in man's world, and that the ills of society (poverty, disease, alcoholism, malnutrition, truancy, delinquency, infidelity, etc.) were due to women's failings to fully embrace their moral duty to keep a clean house and cook "scientific" meals for their family. If you want to know why women got so fed up with being at home - fed up enough that they left their homes for the workplace in the 60s and 70s - it's all here. And it turns out that the decline in home cooking - that so many conservatives have blamed on the women's movement, and held up as the reason for the obesity epidemic - actually began in the 1950s, when home economists put a full-court press on women to give up the "old ways" of preparing food and to use "convenient and hygenic" prepackaged foods. It turns out that in the 1950s, women were told cooking wasn't as important as being sexually attractive to their husbands. So much for the "feminists are to blame for all the world's ills" theory.
This is an absolutely wonderful and amazing book. I can't speak highly enough about it. It explains so much about why we have the attitudes towards food that we do, and how we might be able to find our way back to a healthier way of eating. Back in the timeframe the book discusses, it was actually seen as a good thing that women would buy prepackaged meals from the market rather than cook "unscientific" food in "unhygenic" kitchens. Now, women are doing just that and we've found out it's bad for us. I have a particular aversion to people like Christopher Kimball from Cook's Illustrated, who purports to have the "best" recipe and method for cooking anything, regardless of culinary traditions, cultural differences, and personal taste, and is extremely strident in his promotion of his own product over others (recently writing with obvious disgust in the New York Times about user-contributed recipes on the web, which aren't as scrupulously developed as his own). Now I realize there have been New Englanders like this for over a century, trying to tell women they know better and that women should put their own instincts about how to feed their families aside in favor of "researched" methods. I honestly believe that a huge part of why women don't cook more now is that they're intimidated by culinary perfectionism and mixed messages from people like Kimball - put dinner on the table, but do it our way, which may require more time or skill than you have, but that shouldn't matter, if you want to do the "right" thing.
If you like food, like cooking, and want to understand a LOT about feminism, food politics, the history of the women's movement, etc., you cannot miss this book. I can't wait to get Something From The Oven, Shapiro's book about cooking in the 1950s.
also helps readers to understand the convenience food mania of the 1950s.