What Sexism Looks Like — Through The Lens Of Food

Food means way more than just breakfast, lunch, or dinner — and sociologist Farha Ternikar's book, Brunch: A History, proves it. Through a deep dive into brunch menus past and present, Ternikar shows how food and food choices tell a story about us — who we are, what we want, what we’re doing, what’s available to us, and so much more. She demonstrates how brunch in particular can be tied to the history of women’s liberation from the early 1900s to today.

Using Farha’s book as inspiration, we decided to imagine the progression of brunch through several generations. In the past, most of these meals would have been prepared by a twentysomething American woman. But, the technologies and social norms of each era dictate the differences in what, how, and why that woman would have cooked — showing us how something as seemingly unremarkable as a midday meal can tell a rich, nuanced story. Read on to see what brunch would have looked like as far back as the 1930s, what it might look like 100 years from now, and what we can learn from it all.
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1930s
Photographed byZachary Zavislak ; Prop Styled by Amy Taylor; Food Styled by Jen Beauchesne
Menu: Tomato & Clam Juice Mocktail, Anchovy & Chutney Rolls, Black Bean Soup, Sautéed Kidneys, Indian Rice & Minced Celery, Fresh Fruits With Kirsch, Egg & Mayo Aspic*, Coffee
To see what brunch looked like in the 1930s, we looked to the 1937 cookbook Corned Beef And Caviar, by Marjorie Hillis and Bertina Foltz. The first thing you notice when flipping through the book is that there are no recipes or detailed steps. Why? Probably because it was assumed (even expected) that women were taught to cook from a young age. So, instead of being instructional, the menus are suggestions for different entertaining scenarios, and boy are they extensive. Even for someone who is eating alone and is "just plain lazy," the book suggests a meal that consists of of six different dishes.

The menus are accompanied by advice such as, "A twittering hostess is exhausting and an apologetic one is tiresome." Ouch. And, what if a woman wanted to enjoy a nice cocktail with her brunch? The book discourages it, instructing that it's only okay for a man to drink in the daytime. How about enjoying that cocktail by yourself while slaving away in the kitchen? Absolutely not! People would think you were "depraved" and they "wouldn’t be wrong." That's why the mocktail served here is made with tomato and clam juice — it lets you serve an interesting beverage while avoiding the pitfalls of being (gasp!) a woman who drinks.

The most hilarious treat of Corned Beef And Caviar is the entire chapter devoted to "Getting A Man With The Meal" (the menu pictured is one such suggestion). The food is gendered, with particular ingredients and dishes associated with men or women. In this brunch, the sautéed kidneys (upper left) and black bean soup (far right) are called "masculine dishes," and are aimed at satisfying and impressing a male brunch companion.

*While aspics are represented in this book, one is not part of this original menu. But, we couldn't resist.
1960s
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Photographed byZachary Zavislak ; Prop Styled by Amy Taylor; Food Styled by Jen Beauchesne
Menu: Bloody Mary, Eggs In Ham Cups, Fried Apples, Jell-O Mold.

By the 1960s, more women were working outside the home, which had a profound impact on, well, everything, including meals. Cooking was increasingly described in terms of drudgery (sound familiar?), and the aim of cookbooks shifted toward easy-to-follow, formulaic recipes designed to get a meal on the table as quickly as possible. One of the pivotal cookbooks of the day was longtime editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Helen Gurley Brown’s Single Girl’s Cookbook. It was the first to normalize daytime drinking, and even acknowledged the possibility of a man spending the night!

The brunch menu pictured here is a suggestion of what to serve to an "overnight guest." Because of competing demands at work and and home, the menus are shorter, and we start to see the beginning of kitchen shortcuts and hacks. For example, Gurley Brown suggests using packaged Danish ham to create a gourmet dish. Time-consuming aspics were popular just 30 years before, but the invention of Jell-O simplified the process of creating gelatinized dishes. While the tone of this cookbook feels much more modern than that of its 1930s counterpart, tradition is still going strong. (For example, a lot of the emphasis is still on landing a husband. There is even a whole chapter on what to cook if you find out "your man" has been cheating, and how to "win him back.")
1980s
Photographed byZachary Zavislak ; Prop Styled by Amy Taylor; Food Styled by Jen Beauchesne

Menu: Creamy Scrambled Eggs In Baked-Potato Boats, Pineapple Shell, Champagne, Coffee
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Fast-forward two decades to the '80s, and brunch had been fully absorbed into popular culture and was served at hotels, restaurants, and cafés. It also went international: Technology made the world a smaller place, with multicultural brunch dishes — from huevos rancheros to Middle Eastern shakshuka — appearing on menus here in the U.S.

Published in 1980, Sunset Brunch Cookbook shares various recipe ideas with international flair. The book is clearly designed for people who work outside of the home — many of the recipes are broken down into smaller tasks that could be accomplished over the course of several days. The old aspic and Jell-O towers are gone, and the emphasis is placed on incorporating quality ingredients that shine on their own. The pineapple shell shows how minimally processed foods could still be crafted to look spectacular.

Interestingly, the background photos of this cookbook show women and men in the kitchen, which marks a shift in societal expectations around who was responsible for food preparation. Thankfully, gone is all language about "how to get a man." In fact, the cookbook is just that: a book about cooking, with recipes (no life advice, heteronormativity, or etiquette guides). Also, everyone is drinking, though they're drinking wine and Champagne rather than cocktails; by 1980, wine consumption was about twice what it was in 1969. We even start to see hints of the coffee-culture revolution. Instead of using instant coffee — or buying any old coffee beans — Sunset Brunch talks a lot about what kind of coffee beans to buy, and how to brew and serve the beverage.
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2115
Photographed byZachary Zavislak ; Prop Styled by Amy Taylor; Food Styled by Jen Beauchesne
Menu: Nutrient-Rich Sludge, Petri-Dish Protein, Freeze-Dried Fruits, Water.

We all know what a homemade American brunch looks like today: maybe some eggs with a side of avocado toast, perhaps served with bacon (or a vegetarian-friendly protein), and hash browns. We have dedicated cocktails galore, and a long list of caffeinated drinks to choose from. In short, we live in an age of abundance. But, our brunch, just like the meals of the 1930s, '60s, and '80s, is just a moment in time. What will our great-grandchildren be eating for brunch 100 years from now?

When it comes to food, predictions for the future are pretty bleak: Demographic and climatic shifts will inevitably have an impact on what and how we eat. Most discussions about the future of food don't revolve around fields, farms, or pastures, but rather labs with tightly controlled conditions and aquaponics. Based on this thinking, we imagined that meals full of water-hungry foods will be a thing of the past. The focus of mealtime could be less about pleasure, and more about absorbing the necessary nutrients.

Our imagined all-in-one "breakfast sludge" will provide those nutrients, but not much in the way of taste. (Products such as Soylent, which is already available, could mark the beginning of this sort of emerging food technology.) A side of fruit will still be part of the meal, but it will likely be freeze-dried to preserve freshness and lessen food waste. We'd also put our money on protein coming in the form of synthetic meat — that is, meat grown in a petri dish or test tube. Many well-known companies and people (even Bill Gates!) are throwing money behind this new technology, believing it will be a major boon for future generations. Finally, fresh, unpolluted water could become a rarity, so we imagined that when people go out to "treat" themselves to brunch, they won’t be getting cocktails; they’ll be splurging on a small glass of clean, fresh water.

So, when we go out to brunch this weekend, perhaps to celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to appreciate what’s on our plate. Our typical Sunday-morning meal in 2015 is clearly the most delicious brunch to date — and it just might turn out to be as good as it gets.
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