The searing truth – who should be barefoot in the kitchen?

By Rudo Letsie, Business Executive Officer Food at Nestlé

One of the most unfortunate events of modern times has been the loss in family time.

Mothers, fathers, and children often don’t share experiences as they used to. Men and women have also become increasingly isolated by their gender roles. In fact, it has become so noticeable that the call has gone out through business and society for us all to share inclusive spaces and actively promote gender equality.

In my view, one of the areas where gender equity has been challenged least is in the home.

It is here, despite being in the 21st century where women are still expected to fulfil multiple roles. Women generally still work outside the home, do the family shopping, plan meals as well as prep and cook for the family.

For many women, there has also been little respite from the kitchen or the ‘duties’ of being the primary child carer, school driver and simultaneously supporting their partners.

The time has undoubtedly come to ‘Open Up the Kitchen’ so that the room becomes a place where one has the opportunity to try their hands at something new and unfamiliar.

The result could be more shared moments and promotion of understanding for what women do during the average day. Most importantly, the concept of positive parental roles and inclusivity would be shared and promoted to children.

Ironically, it has taken a worldwide pandemic and a few short months to begin achieving in homes what business, politicians and even the UN have been trying to accomplish for years. Inclusivity and gender equality are landing in homes and thanks to Covid-19, could be here to stay, although, there is equally no doubt that the multiple roles of women will continue.

Think about it. In many homes, families have been forced to share space for long periods. In other homes, a new dynamic has also emerged as the woman of the house has been an essential worker meaning dad has had to stay home and take on the role of cook and bottlewasher.

One solution to avoid boredom for these enforced family ties has been to find activities – one of them being cooking – that all can enjoy as the Harvard Business Review reports, ‘gender-equity’ has begun to surface in homes.

Furthermore, equity could be sticking as “more men than ever before are now discovering what it’s like to spend so much of their time managing work, childcare and a household,” says the Review. The report continues to acknowledge this has the potential to create a sea change in gendered norms at home – and it appears as if opening up the kitchen and cooking could become catalysts for encouraging families to work and play together.

The potential for cooking to become an agent of change in Africa isn’t as far-fetched as it initially seems.

In Mozambique, long before Covid-19, civil organisations and the UN used workshops on nutrition, education, agro-processing and preparation of nutritious recipes to open the kitchen and promote gender equality at home. More than 1 600 young men took part in the initiative, and 90% in a later survey said they were in favour of equal sharing of domestic responsibilities.

For those who don’t believe that cooking can change lives and build relationships, the advice is simple; get into the kitchen with your partner and kids and try it- at the very least, the sharing will make mom’s busy life more relaxed.

When people work together preparing a meal, not only is a mother’s workload reduced, but the open kitchen becomes a great place to de-stress and spend quality time together.

The manual tasks involved tend to have a calming effect and daily tensions ooze away as the sounds of running water, clanking of cooking utensils and relaxed conversation combine with enticing aromas to quickly create a sense of wellbeing.

Besides promoting gender equality and sharing a creative activity which results in a delicious meal, psychologists also say that cooking together has many other benefits like boosting self-esteem by doing something for others, sharing a nurturing experience and building bonds between people.

The next step takes the ‘feel-good factor’ to the next level. Researchers say that having family meals together has advantages, including:

 Children are less likely to be overweight as they are eating nutritious, home-cooked meals.

 Conversations at the table promote vocabulary building as children interact with family members, as well as build relationships between parent and child.

 This together time can lead to happier children and reducing anxiety.

The overall message is clear. The heart of any home is an open kitchen and putting together a quick, nutritious meal is not only the role of women. Gender norms can change if we allow for new ideologies and practices to emerge. The more men and women work together at home, share chores and culinary creativity, the more the call to Open Up the Kitchen will become a reality.