“Struggling to deal with the high cost of food, housewives found themselves emptying the grocers’ shelves of elbow macaroni as they searched for inexpensive alternatives to meat to feed their families” (Twarog 1). So begins Emily Twarog’s book, Politics of the Pantry. In light of the Women’s March that took place in my hometown of Chicago over the weekend, I attended an enlightening discussion led by the author of the book, Linda Leighton, Ayantu Tibeso, Alessandra Williams, as well as multiple other participants. The discussion took place at the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul.
Twarog’s book focuses on women’s starting role in politics through the protesting of high food prices and low quality meat from their local grocery stores. These twentieth century actions created a drastic amount of significance for women, and a multitude of opportunities for those would would normally spend their days at home. Out of exhaustion of the price and quality of the food, wives in middle class homes began to stage meat boycotts.
The author brought up meat as a staple of the house, and it being a strong indicator of social class. The ways meat used to function in the household in the twentieth century was something so intriguing to me, as I’ve always thought of meat as a masculine food. A man would come home from a strenuous day at work and needed nourishment– to not only “keep him happy,” but to keep him fueled for the next day on the job. Meat provided energy for men, who could then go to work the next day and earn more income for the family, as well as for more food. In a twentieth century model of a household, the woman is dependent on the man for income, and the man is dependent on the woman for sustenance. For centuries, the nuclear family has used meat as a fueler, a provider.
Once the boycotts were over, however, the woman’s role was not. These protests and actions taken brought women out of the house for good, as many of those that were involved continued to pave a place in local politics. If not local politics, then other jobs. Women finally received the option to escape the role of just a housewife. What Twarog made me as well as others believe was that just because the meat boycotts ended, doesn’t mean that the vitality of women ended as well.
Through her writing about groups of women making a codebook to decipher the unknown dates of expiration on foods, the endless boycotts in multiple towns, Twarog brings to life the women that began to break down the notion that politics are solely for the men in society. As a young female, as well as a worker, volunteer, and student, I am left with a feeling of gratefulness for the progress that has been made in the working and politics world for women. Though we have come a long way as females, this work doesn’t stop now. In my future I see an endless amount of struggle, for women across the globe as well as I, to gain equality in a world that is growing immensely. My only desire is to witness this conversation once again with reading the book in advance. It’s currently on hold for me at my university’s library, and the itch to open it up will stay with me until I get it into my hands, until I get to open it, and until I get to read the words.
Through the delightfully intriguing discussion, issues were voiced that a variety of women in society face constantly. The East Side Freedom Library provides a space where everyone could voice opinions with neither intrusion or interruption, but attentiveness, and acceptance. As a young woman, for me, a place like the East Side Freedom Library is something so important, as it promotes justice, and equality– two of the most important motifs that have inspired and pushed me, as well as others, everyday.
LaBarbera-Twarog, Emily E. Politics of the Pantry Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America. Oxford University Press, 2017.