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6 Cooking and Agency This chapter looks at a major part of women’s work—cooking—to examine their agency and power.1 I define agency as purposive action expressing freedom. Following Antonio Gramsci, I see agency as the process of making a life and making a self.2 It is the ability to have an impact on the world in multiple ways—sometimes resistant to power structures, sometimes complicit with them (Ahearn 2001, 113). Because it is about freedom, “agency is critical to the concept of cultural citizenship: it reflects the active role of Latinos and other groups in claiming rights” (Flores and Benmayor 1997, 12). Women in Antonito have had diverse relationships with cooking that reflect agency with regard to deciding whether, when, what, and how to cook; how much effort to devote to it; and how much of it to delegate to husbands, children, paid workers, or female relatives. Women have usually valued cooking, whether or not they shouldered it themselves, but it has represented challenges to their agency. It has stood for all the domestic chores that were defined as their responsibility, whether they “It’s a Feeling Thing” Cooking and Women’s Agency Counihan_2PP.indd 114 Counihan_2PP.indd 114 8/20/09 10:15:24 AM 8/20/09 10:15:24 AM 115 Cooking and Women’s Agency wanted them or not. It has presented burdens that they have had to discharge and the potential oppression of gender expectations that they could skirt but never totally escape. TEDDY MADRID’S COOKING ADVENTURES Sixty-six-year-old Teddy Madrid, the second oldest of nine children, told several stories about cooking that revealed how integral it is to women’s role. My attempts at cooking in my mother’s kitchen were pathetic. My dad and mom were gone, so I decided to try my first cooking experience. I got this recipe, and it called for six onions, six, six onions. So I thought, “We’re going to have fried onions.” I should have figured it out, what to do with the onions. It was onions and corned beef. I had no corned beef. I had a can of corned beef. It said that you slice the six onions, slice them and then fry them. OK, so I fried them in the skillet. I followed the recipe; it was this great big platter of fried onions. So great, I counted my sisters. I was preparing food for them. Then I got the corned beef. They used to like it cold. Well, I went and I mixed the corned beef with this big mess of onions. I sat them all down and we ate. I said, “They’re good. You eat them now. You eat the corned beef and the onions.” A lot of it is the way you cook things and, I found out, in the way you present them to people, the garnishing, and so on. A can of corned beef and this big ton of onions was not exactly what they had in mind. So I put the recipe book away, and I said, “Eat.” I got sick, and the rest of them would not eat. So that did not work at all. When my dad and my mom came home, they said, “What did you feed the girls?” “Corned beef.” “And onions!” they said. “We wouldn’t eat them.” That was my first attempt. My second attempt was even more tragic than that. Yes. I got this recipe, and it was for beef stew. It said, “Cut the beef.” Of course, we had mutton. So I browned the mutton and I put it in to boil, put in the potatoes, put in the carrots that my momma had, from the garden, cut the green beans, and I chopped a little bit of onion. I had this big great pot of this stew that was boiling. It would have been fine if I had left it at that, but it called for stock. I said, “What could stock be?” I was young, very young. “What could stock be?” I looked at my mom’s things and thought it could be wheat, some kind of wheat. Counihan_2PP.indd 115 Counihan_2PP.indd 115 8/20/09 10:15:24 AM 8/20/09 10:15:24 AM A T O R T I L L A I S L I K E L I F E 116 Could it be mother’s Wheatina? So it called for...


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MARC Record
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