Dogs, Boys and Cooking

A few years ago, a friend alerted me to a contest. I could submit a photo of my child to the Nestlé company and, if chosen, they would create a children’s cookbook with the image of my child on the cover. The problem at the time was that I did not have any children.


In the throes of IVF, I was flustered and frustrated in so many ways. It seemed like the church didn’t want me because I didn’t have children. It seemed like I didn’t have anything to speak to anyone about –in or out of the church- because I didn’t have a child as an icebreaker. Better still, I didn’t have children of common age to even make small talk to try to make a new friend. And now….. even multi-national chocolate companies seemed to be conspiring against me!


So I did what all flustered and frustrated women do: I submitted a photo of my dog to Nestlé. My dog was like my child, after all, and Nestlé makes sweetened condensed milk, powdered milk and other baking items (as dogs are not supposed to have chocolate). He travelled with me sometimes to go to the IVF prep appointments, and I snuggled with him and cuddled him as though he was my child. When I baked cookies, because he was a Labrador, as well as being my baby at the time, he would presume some were for him and occasionally help himself to an unattended plate. One Christmas, as I left the kitchen for a moment, leaving 6 gingerbread men cooling on wire racks, to return to none! My dog’s eyes and wagging tail declared it a Christmas miracle! So did I. Seriously. It wasn’t like I was going to get them back.


And- speaking of miracles….. my dog’s image was chosen! (God bless the Australian sense of humour!) I laughed so hard that I cried, and the friend who had told me about the competition declared that she had a new favouite cookbook! It was an all-around win. That Christmas,  we arranged to send copies of this small cookbook to most of our friends.


MoCookMost people were as amused as we were with the image of our dog gracing the cover of a dessert cookbook. One woman was flustered and seemed confused that they had chosen my dog, but the recipes weren’t mine… and the recipes were for people- not dog recipes. But, interestingly….  people with sons thanked us because their sons liked cooking, but most children’s cookbooks were aimed at girls. This was a surprise to me, but something I grew increasingly aware of as time passed. Even when the children’s cookbook covers are ambiguous, often images inside included smiling mothers and daughters… and the occasional apron-adored boy with a burger flipper.


The dog on the front of a cookbook made the book appeal to the daughters— and sons of our friends. Their boys wanted to learn to cook, they told us, but they also already felt pressure to be …manly. And confectionery-coloured cookbooks did not work for that, even if the occasional cookbook had a boy in a blue apron.


As a student of masculinity studies, I found this interesting. One argument that anti-feminists have is that men will become obsolete if women do everything. It’s a ridiculous argument, but one that reinforces a simplified theme in masculinity studies: what are we teaching boys about how to be men? When we teach boys that they have to go on missions to fulfill what God wants, then they do their best to go on missions. When we tell boys that women’s bodies are made for motherhood, then they see women as mothers. When we tell boys that “immodestly dressed” girls will sexually entice them, then they learn that it is okay to objectify women based on appearance. Often, it is the little messages that we send to boys, as much as it is the messages that we send to girls that cause such disharmony, bias, and developmental segregation.


Back to food: When my husband and I were newlyweds, he enrolled in a cooking class. It was called “Cooking for Blokes.” (Yes, he is Australian and he was taking the class by his own choice.) The class was taught by a man, and my husband said he was the anomaly student in the class: all of the other students were in one of two groups- newly divorced dads who needed to know how to cook for themselves and their children, or university-aged students who were too poor to keep ordering pizza every night, yet too ill-informed to boil noodles. The message in this was astounding to me- these males had not learned to cook at home, and needed to learn even the most basic principles– like the difference between a saucepan and a frypan.


Truth be told, the cooking in this class was great. Curried sausages, roasted veggies and seasoned pasta were a few of the things recreated at home, much to my delight. So I forgot about how people outside of my marriage might still be segregated when it came to the basic skill of cooking: men cook when women aren’t around, or if it involves outside cooking (“manly” BBQs or dutch-ovens), and women cook because that is what they are supposed to love to do.


As adults, there is some cultural correction in sight as we watch Jamie Oliver throwing things together with ease and expertise, and as we cheer for Iron Chefs battling over sieves, stoves and crockpots for the winningest dish. But are we really helping our boys to understand that they could be as much in the kitchen for love, compared to the way we teach that to our girls? In other words, what messages are we still subconsciously telling our boys and girls about what they should and should not like, especially when it comes to something as life-sustaining as food preparation?


At food gatherings when I most often attend church, the Relief Society is traditionally enlisted to bring “pot-luck mains” whilst the bishopric “donates dessert”– i.e. they often buy a bulk dessert item and serve it with cheap ice cream from a local grocer. Read as: women are in the kitchen and bring hand-made goods, but the men work, so their contribution is paid for in dollars, made by someone else, and delivered to the door. This isn’t a perfect example, but it is common. There is the odd sausage sizzle (cook sausages on an outdoor BBQ- it’s an aussie thing)- but that is also typical– the men cook the meat, the women prepare the salads and side dishes…not unlike many of my American friends’ Thanksgivings. With this in mind, if we subconsciously, or culturally make a habit of segregating food preparation duties, and food is something we share 3 times a day, it seems to reason that some men can be as lost in a kitchen as they are in how to seek egalitarian relationships with women.


I recently did a quick search in DeseretBook for cookbooks, and found there to be no children’s cookbooks aimed at boys. None. There is one cookbook aimed at girls, called The Snow Princess Cookbook, and two cookbooks (here and here) with “girl” in the title—but those are aimed at women, not children. This in itself is a symptom of masculinity ideology, where females are always referred to as “girls” no matter their age or status (infantile), and males are “little men” and “young men” and “men” (masculine). Indeed, the only cookbook that looks like a male child is on the front is dedicated to mothers of fussy eaters, extending a message that the adult woman must submit and trick to please her male child. And only collection of mens’ recipes in the Deseret collection was the Cougar Football Cookbook, wherein men who are celebrated for their athletic (masculine) performance share their favourite recipes. In a masculinity studies context, this equates to men being allowed to express culinary prestige without appearing feminine, because it is in association with football. It is classic sexism in the kitchen.


To be clear, I love cooking and cookbooks, so have no ill will toward the content of any of these books. But I am concerned about the messages we are sending boys about cooking– after all, if we want boys and girls to develop in the ethos of egalitarianism, then we need to make a effort to be sensitive to the messages we are sending to boys in all areas, not just about sex and priesthood. Further, there are cookbooks aimed at children, both male and female on Amazon (yay for the star wars cookbook!). But again, the majority of marketing and advertising of these cookbooks is aimed at women- as purchasers, as culinary artisans and as teachers of the kitchen. In a world where our routine is developed around 3 daily meals, the social influence in teaching girls that cooking is fun, and for boys that cooking is done *only if you must* — has a higher stigma. Indeed, it is more socially segregating that what we might presume at first glance.


So what is the magic of a cookbook with a dog on the front? Both boys and girls can like it, without baggage. That is a good thing.


And in the end, if males become more welcome and comfortable in spaces that are traditionally female, then it seems to reason that females might also be better welcomed in spaces that are traditionally male. In an era when women are finally being invited into the (traditionally male-only) room to be a part of the planning stages of ward meetings, it is increasingly important for males to be familiar with the work and spaces that are known to be traditionally female dominant. In other words, we need to invite our boys into the kitchen, because that makes feminism a family affair.


If you have sons, do you cook with them as often as you do with your daughters?

What (gender-neutral) cookbooks do you recommend for children?


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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29 Responses

  1. Kelsi Moore says:

    My little brother is getting married next month. He shocked his fiancé and our mother when he said he would probably make dinner most nights since he gets home from work earlier than his fiancé most days. It was all I could do to keep myself from openly applauding. But I also thought it was really sad how shocking that offer was.

    • spunky says:

      I like your brother! Maybe he could put together a Mormon boy’s cookbook? Heaven knows the church press needs one that is focused on providing a meal for a family, rather than a “manly” guide to maintain machismo in the kitchen.

  2. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    My son in law comes from a tradition of men cooking. He is happily passing the practice on to my grandson.

  3. Emily G. says:

    Both of my kids love the Star Wars Cookbooks. Yoda Soda, Greedo’s Burritos, Wookiee Cookies . . . my son loves to cook and my daughter loves the styling of the food images.

  4. Andrew R. says:

    “Indeed, the only cookbook that looks like a male child is on the front is dedicated to mothers of fussy eaters, extending a message that the adult woman must submit and trick to please her male child.”

    This is not a message that needs extending. Anyone with children knows that they need tricking – male and female – occasionally. One of my daughters (15) does not eat carrots. She “doesn’t like them”. Every time we have a roast dinner my wife makes the stuffing with shredded carrot in the mix. The same daughter (who doesn’t know this fact) eats more of the stuffing than anyone else – laps it up.

    I cook about 25% of the meals – I would happily cook them all, but I am not home every evening. My children have always enjoyed Dad’s cooking more, but in fairness that is because I do the more lavish meals, rather than the basics.

    Of course, down where blokes are blokes, and sheilas do the girly stuff maybe you have more work to do to change things. But here, in the more enlightened part of the Commonwealth I cook and my sister-in-law plays rugby!

    • spunky says:

      Oh, Andrew R…. seriously? I’m not a fan of tricking children. and really– you can’t be honest with your 15 year old? That kind of misrepresentation to a young woman scares me.

      I have heard other males profess to be more culinary-inclined. In my experience, there are two masculinity theory- derived reasons for this: 1) competition- the male must surpass the female in order to feel more masculine, and 2) as males yet do less overall housework, then on nights assigned cooking, that is all they have task-wise to complete. They are not juggling laundry, personal time and children’s needs as women do, therefore, are in a privileged position to indulge in culinary creation. For which reason do you feel inclined to profess masculine superiority?

      And honey, re: “more enlightened part of the Commonwealth.” You and both know this comment smacks of racism, ethnocentrism and bullying. This is against the comment policy. Keep it in your pants.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Sorry I don’t fit into your stereotype male then.

        1. I like cooking, I always have. I made cakes with my mother, and grandmother, from a very young age. I always helped out my mother with Sunday lunch, gravy, custard, things that needed a constant eye.
        2. I am a chemist, in part I view cooking as bucket chemistry. I love the creation of something from ingredients.
        3. I have an allotment where I grow things. I like to make things with what I grow. Soups, jams, freezing and pickling.

        Additionally, to round off my non-stereotypical maleness.
        I am not sporty. Apart from swimming and sailing I am not interested in playing, and mostly watching, sport. In seven years of secondary education I managed to avoid football for all but two half terms and rugby for the same.

        I was the only boy in my year at school (all boys) who played the violin. I also played the piano. At that school (age 11 – 14) I taught myself to play the tuba and clarinet while the other boys were kicking a piece of leather around the yard. During school music lessons I went to the parish church to play the organ. I was the drum major for the drum corps – something I was bullied for.

        You are correct, I do not juggle laundry. However, I do juggle a job, three personal business, my allotment, two major stake callings (and acting in another), personal time and children’s needs (my wife does not drive to I have to take my children to youth, etc.) my adult children’s needs are more dealt with by me than my wife. We also have a son on a mission and my wife has strained relationships with her family – both of which she only really has me to lean on for. Our relationship is based on mutual respect and each doing what they are good at, whilst helping the other to do their bits. I would be nothing without her (31 years this year).

        And the commonwealth thing, it was a joke. Sorry you didn’t get that. Though I have to admit I was not aware that with the exception of the native Australians you considered yourselves to be a different race.

      • spunky says:

        Andrew R., I’m pleased you do so much to support your family, including cooking. I understand the chemist part of things, and appreciate that being one of the areas that is of interest to you. From a Masculinity Studies perspective, that would position you in the position of economically superior (your talent in chemistry is derived from your employment and education.) That is not a bad thing, it is an academic thing. Music is very mathematical, so it sounds to me that your expression of masculinity is derived in maths, in light of the chemist profession.

        It is difficult to derive humour on a webpage, nonetheless cultural humour isn’t something that is appreciated.

        It does sound like you have a lot on your plate. It sounds like your wife also has a lot going on as well.

        To be quite frank, I’d be interested in your take on Brexit. Care to submit a guest post on how Brexit might effect women in the UK?

      • Andrew R. says:

        ” Aussies get labelled as sexists all the bloody time.”

        Whilst I wouldn’t argue that that has never been the case, I am not so sure it still is. I also believe that irrespective of perceived gender difference in Australians Australian women are probably viewed as amongst the strongest in the world.

        I think the idea of a nation of nation builders who will do what they have to to have the life they want is not a bad stereotype. Obviously the beer swilling side of things may be over done. But surely you don’t want you nation to be judged solely on “Neighbours” and “Home and Away”?

  5. Afton says:

    I think that there is no excuse why anyone shouldn’t learn to cook basic meals for oneself. It is simple enough to learn to do.

    My 4 year old son LOVES to help me cook, and I let him help every chance I can. Yesterday he helped me with the pastry for tarts I was making. It was so much fun to have him help me and teach him a new skill. He even has his own play kitchen and food and comes in many mornings with his interesting wooden food creations.

    The love of food knows no gender or age.

  6. paws says:

    Oh, isn’t it tiring to work around these gender stereotypes? Can’t we just let people do, like, and be whatever they want?

    I have two girls, and I’m frustrated by the way things are marketed to them, as well. Don’t get me started on kid’s clothes.

    I get the impression that it’s okay for a guy to be a chef, but not an everyday cook, which is BS of course. I do ‘t know about cookbooks, but there are plenty of male cooks on TV. At least there used to be in the US; it’s been a while since I’ve watched TV.

    Even better than a cookbook would be to see Dad, big brother, etc, at work in the kitchen.

  7. Rob Osborn says:

    Me and my wife each cook. We each have our specialties we have perfected over the years. My wife generally coojs more than me as I am often working late to earn a buck or two. I saw your little feminism digs in there that casts negatively on an otherwise good post. Im curious why you had to throw that in there?

    Today, like a lot of other days, I went to work, worked hard, then went to my house at lunch to work on some cabinets and walls Im getting ready to paint. I noticed the carpet was soaked. Turns out I had punctured a water line in the wall and immediately my afternoon and evening changed and all hands on deck were required to rip the wall apart and fix the leak. Growing up, we (me and my brothers) were taught how to fix and build houses and so, naturally, its my job to take charge and fix it. My wife rushed to my aid, brought me fan, tools, etc. Seven hours later I had control of it and had it repaired and the wall patched back together. My wife made a late dinner and I had a hot dinner waiting at home. This is a typical day in my life and I find it interesting that when all hands on deck are required, both genders naturally fit into the workload to solve problems hand in hand. But, in general, each gender naturally finds that niche they are good at to solve problems. Now of coarse we could just argue that women should be the one to rip the wall apart, cut the pvc pipe, work the hot chemical melting glue (that may cause birth defects in pregnant womens children), melt new joints together, patch the wall back together and the husband meanwhile goes home and makes a pleasent dinner.

    My point is that men and women differ in gifts and abilities naturally and as such we generally learn and train in our youth differently that will most benefit us in society and family life. I am reminded of one other story-

    Last fall our community dinner table got together at the Methodist church to turn several truckloads of donated corn into small packaged cooked corn to be used to do the community dinner table. There were about ten different unique operations going on in this production. Now, I found it interesting that even though no one told each gender what to do, both man and woman naturally, on their own, found the respective niche they were good at or where their physical capabilities were best matched. Naturally, the heavy physically demanding work and dangerous work was done by the men and the other work was done by the women. Everyone felt the perfect mesh of the production with everyone contributing equally according to their abilities. So, why is it that naturally men and women work best when the work to be done is divided into distinct gender based groups that best match physicality? And, why does this somehow naturally happen on its own in most circumstances? This is why we target children differently in teaching and raising them to be best suited for society and family life. When I was young our father took us out on construction projects to learn to physically work hard. My sisters were taught to be homemakers. This doesnt mean men shouldnt cook or that women shouldnt change the oil on the family car, it just means that by bature, we become good at where our niche is based on physicality and efficiency to make society and family life work best. Because men dont bear children, we have a greater opportunity to be the main breadwinner in the family while the women, who do bear and nurture children to maturity are generally in the home more hours of the day. Efficiency in society equates thus to women who generally are best homemakers while men are breadwinners. Its no wonder then why we teach our children differently how to work and what that work is on. In the winter, a heavy wet snow means the men go out and shovel it. Why? Because the job demands brute strength and power and men are best suited for that task. So, in the name of gender equality, should we make women break their backs and work as efficiently as men to move the snow?

    • AuntM says:

      “My point is that men and women differ in gifts and abilities naturally and as such we generally learn and train in our youth differently that will most benefit us in society and family life.”

      You say that we need to “train” our youth to do what comes “naturally.” Seems contradictory.

      I think what you see as “natural” in most cases is actually “learned” and “trained.”

      • Rob Osborn says:

        So, if I learn and train to bear children will I be able to bear children? No, my genetic makeup doesnt allow that. What if wo en decide they want to train to learn to be taller and have greater muscle density like males? Will ithappen based off of learning? No, the genetics dont allow for that. This is where “natural” co es into play. Im sure it didnt take long for Adam and Eve to figure out who was stronger, who could bear children, who was better at protecting, who was better at nurturing children, etc. It doesnt matter what culture, at what time in the history, or what social customs were, tasks in community cultures were generally defined by which sex could most efficiently and productively get it done faster and better. Thats how it will always be and it happens naturally. Lets just say for instance that we wanted to create gender equality in the logging industry. What would happen? We would end up with less production, increased wood prices and unhappy people and an communities that could no longer afford housing. Naturally, things like logging are a mans job and so men are trained for what naturally fits their genetic makeup. In WW2 in factories, the workload was increased from 10 hours to 12 a day and injuries shot up 150% in women but were stabalized in the men. Why? Well, naturally, be ause of genetics, mens lungs have on average a 30% greater capacity, 50% greater brute strength, etc. Men are, by nature, better equipped to work harder and longer and able to get more done in physically demanding jobs. Its thus “nature” that shows that man is a more capable breadwinner in general- we were made to work. Its really that simple. These are facts. There is a reason why men and women compete separately in sports because in general physical work is easier for men than women. Thats because of nature, not because it is learned or trained.

      • AuntM says:

        Rob – You may have missed when I said “in most cases.” Unlike you, I’m not making all-encompassing declarations about women or men.

        I agree with you that people without uteruses (uteri?) can’t “learn” to gestate offspring.

        I also agree that jobs requiring brute strength will tend to be held by people with a lot of brute strength. I’ll also agree that men as a group have on average more brute strength then women as a group have on average. But I see no reason to say that logging is a man’s job. It’s neither a man’s or a woman’s job. It’s a brute strength job – at least for now. So many brute strength jobs shift to intelligence/attention-to-detail jobs as we push the heavy lifting onto machines.

        I disagree with you when you say, “in general physical work is easier for men than women.” There is such a great variety in physical work and in the physical capabilities of both men and women that your “in general” statement is untenable.

    • spunky says:

      “I saw your little feminism digs in there that casts negatively on an otherwise good post. I’m curious why you had to throw that in there?”

      What? and what? And in case you missed it, I am female and can’t “bear” children. Your argument about women is dead in that regard, to be sure. There are a significant number of families where the female is the primary breadwinner, and even more where the couple are financial co-providers. The “women stay at home” construct is reserved for the top wealthiest 3% in the world. If you are that well off, then fine. But don’t presume the rest of the world is equally financially superior as your worldly presumptions imply.

      • Rob Osborn says:

        This dig- “When we tell boys that women’s bodies are made for motherhood, then they see women as mothers. When we tell boys that “immodestly dressed” girls will sexually entice them, then they learn that it is okay to objectify women based on appearance. ”
        We dont tell boys women bodies are made for motherhood for them to see that. Its common sense that a child sees his mother and her body as what embodies motherhood. We dont have to be told immodestly dressed women will entice us sexually. We already know it-its naturally within us. The church counters to teach us to bridal those natural desires and dress modestly.

        I dont know what to say other than feminists have a distorted view of reality. If families continue and children continue to be born then it naturally places the woman in the home and the man in the workplace to provide for the wife and children.

      • Liz says:

        Rob Osborn, due to repeated violations of our comment policy despite multiple warnings, you’re being placed in comment moderation. Your comments will have to be screened and approved going forward to ensure that they aren’t in violation of the comment policy.

  8. Liz says:

    I am so tickled that your dog won this contest – that is amazing. I have three sons and have always had a bee in my bonnet about men who don’t cook, so I’m trying my best to teach them to cook (because I do the bulk of the cooking around here). I’m hoping that as I go back to school and responsibilities get shifted in the next couple of years that my sons will pick up more of the cooking – my husband certainly will. Your post has made me want to focus on them cooking so that they’re ready for it!

  9. Emily U says:

    Spunky, your life experiences never cease to amaze me! You have such great stories. I really want to raise capable, responsible kids and being able to prepare food is an important part of taking care of oneself and others. I don’t make time to include my son in cooking much. I include my daughter because she asks (though to be honest I’d rather do it myself most of the time). Thanks for the reminder that I need to bring him into the process, too.

  10. Brady says:

    What a wonderful article! I am so grateful that my mother encouraged me to bake and cook from when I was a kid. It has become one of those things that I enjoy and have the ability to spend a lot of time with now. A few years back, at one of the food holidays, I was shaping dinner rolls with some of my sisters, and I found out that they didn’t know my mother’s techniques. I had just assumed that she had taught everyone, but I guess she was teaching each person what they were interested in at the time. If I ever have kids, you had better believe that the boys will be cooking in the kitchen with one of their fathers just as often as the girls.

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