In the last couple of weeks, something I never thought would happen has happened: my boyfriend James has begun to enjoy shopping for food. And not only is he going to the farmer’s market with enthusiasm, he is going fully armed with an eco-friendly coterie of glass milk bottles to be refilled, compost to drop off, and reusable canvas bags to put food in. He has even gone so far as to carry produce in his knapsack in order to avoid taking an extra plastic bag. He returns home from the market with funny stories to tell and his bags filled with locally grown treasures. What on earth happened? Here is my admittedly unscientific explanation of what may have encouraged this newfound enthusiasm in a decidedly regular dude for what has typically been considered—like it or not—“women’s work.”
It’s best to have a good reason for your man to do the food shopping. Otherwise — he’ll make the case — why shouldn’t you just do it, since you’re the cook? In our society, it’s generally a given that women should shop and cook—it’s what we see reflected back to us in every commercial and TV show, unless of course it’s a culinary maestro battling it out in an über-macho setting like Iron Chef. While I love shopping for food at the farmer’s market, if I’m really busy, it does seems like one more chore. This past week, that was the case: I had what felt like 10 different projects to work on in regards to the release of my cookbook, and we had a friend’s birthday celebration to attend in the afternoon. Being the supportive and very reasonable man that he is, James understood that it would be a real help if he could step in—and that we might not have fresh food in the house for a few days if he didn’t come to the rescue! So off he went.
He’s the Boss (sort of…)
Encourage your man to choose foods he likes. If there are things you need for the house, give him a list, but let him know that you’re open to what he likes. You may want to add that it would be great if he brought home just a few new things, in small quantities—if your man doesn’t cook or shop frequently, he may not know what constitutes a realistic quantity, or how long food items typically last in the fridge. This is why when men go shopping there is often a tendency to overbuy. I’ve seen this in my father as well as in men who are many generations younger. As I’ve heard time and again from men, they buy a whole lot of fresh produce and then wind up throwing it away because it went bad before they could use it. The important thing is to let your man know that, while buying sober quantities is important, his taste is important, too. So if you like apples but he brings home pears, find a delicious way to prepare them anyway. He’ll feel excited about bringing new flavors into your meal repertoire, and he’ll be more likely to want to shop again.
Let Us Now Praise Famished Men
In case it’s not obvious from what I mentioned about the returnable glass bottles and compost drop-off, shopping for our eco-obsessed home isn’t exactly as low-maintenance as a quick trip to the A&P. Being an “eco enthusiast,” I insist that when we buy food we don’t accept any new plastic bags; that we compost all of our vegetable scraps, egg shells and bread crusts; and that any container that can be reused be returned to the farmer who we bought it from, as with egg cartons. A trip to the farmer’s market means we are not only dropping off compost but also worn-out clothing, if we have it, at the textiles drop-off box—yes, such a thing exists, at least here in New York City). Essentially, a trip to the market is neither elegant, fashionable or carefree—it means carrying lots of unwieldy bags, coming face to face with thousands of other people’s leftovers, and awkwardly fishing for clean bags and containers to hand to vendors while searching for exact change. Not exactly rock star stuff!
So it was a lucky happenstance that when James was dropping off the clothing into the textiles bin, a young woman with a camera asked to interview him about recycling. Instantly, the task took on the rosy glow of celebrity, and the public recognition of doing a good deed. A skilled professional performer and one who embraces the spotlight, James gave a speech with sentiments I’d never heard him express before, about how the average American consumer throws new items away in less than a year; how landfills have reached their maximum capacity; and that we have to stop adding to the waste stream before it overwhelms us. Frankly, he expressed himself more succinctly on the subject than I could. And in terms of giving his farmer’s market foray a little extra dude appeal, I couldn’t have planned it better myself.
Call it a Pavlov reaction, sweet tooth, or childhood nostalgia, but my man loves donuts. To his delight and surprise, he found that homemade apple donuts are everywhere at the Fall market. A freshly made donut makes him smile, even when he has just gotten out of bed on a cold morning to go shopping and hasn’t yet had his all-important cup o’ coffee. Now, every time he goes to the market, his first stop is for a cider donut and a cup of hot cider. It’s an essential part of the experience and it makes the lugging, the messiness, and the slow moving packs of tourists bearable.
The Way To A Man’s Heart. . .
Make your man a wonderful meal with the food he brought home. Now he can make a direct connection between the wholesome quality of the fresh food you prepare and the purchases he has just made. Those baby beets he brought home with the greens attached? Make them into an eye-catching fall salad. Those leafy greens he chose with your healthy diet in mind? Make them into irresistible sautéed greens with garlic and chili flakes. If he broke with his old habits and brought home milk in a returnable glass bottle instead of a disposable carton, go the extra step and make him a café au lait with warm milk and cinnamon. If he sees you’re inspired and enthusiastic about what he buys—and that it means delicious treats are in the offing—he’ll enjoy doing it even more.
While an inexperienced dude shopper may not come home with exactly what you had in mind — hmmm, I don’t remember a quart of fudge ripple being on the list! — be sure to let him know what he did right. If you want him to feel excited about shopping again, make it clear how helpful it is to you and how much you appreciate it. He really does want to do the right thing and support you, but he may just need a little more, um, guidance. After all, if he’s like most guys, he probably hasn’t been doing this for years like you have. At least not beyond frozen burritos and root beer.
Now, how to lure him into the kitchen to start cooking…
This entry was originally posted on rachaelray.com on November 15, 2009.