kelis-sing-about-food-wear-your-voice

After Kelis released songs like “Milkshake,” she wrote a cookbook.

by Jetta Rae DoubleCakes

“You’re writing an album about food?

When I tell people what I’m working on, the response I get is simultaneously identical and varied — the same lyric sung to a couple dozen different melodies.

When the “about food?” is said with disgust or disappointment, it is usually from a man. I’ll meet you halfway and admit it’s not all men; it’s — more often than not — cishet white men, the sort who value a curated appreciation of something over actual experience with it. He thinks the Beatles and the Stones are overrated; he has no idea who Sister Rosetta Tharpe is. He thinks Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a portrait of pained genius; he thinks Julie & Julia is a “chick flick”.

(I’m not even going to talk about how Pinterest and Instagram — social media tools often used to document women’s enjoyment of food and drink (among other creature comforts) — get maligned by modern media as vacuous and femininely jejune. I said I’m not.)

Some are excited to hear I’m writing an album of food songs; food and music are great on their own, or at least can be. Both are intrinsic to the human identity (and therefore commodifiable under capitalism). Both have the capacity to comfort, affirm and uplift. Both have the means to eviscerate and silence when commandeered by people who only appreciate it for its ability to drive profits.

Both are fields where men’s efforts are elevated as art while women’s efforts are denigrated as frivolous, unwarranted self-importance.

For example: Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift’s album 1989. Anthony Bourdain wrote a book about how much he drinks and yells at people and then ate a warthog’s asshole on television. These examples have a profound thing in common: nobody needed these works, but people insist that their efforts have elevated their respective mediums. Even worse: it reifies and encourages replication.

Spotify is now overrun with “sensitively edgy” white dudes covering women and PoC’s music on acoustic guitar in an effort to make it “palatable” to other white dudes. The influx of myopic, aggressive men in the food world hoping to become the next Bourdain is well documented.

For a woman to blog, write and sing about food is inherently political.

When it comes to handling food, there is a cultural anxiety around women — whether they’re cooks, writers or fans — who transcend a servile, utilitarian station. This anxiety sometimes manifests as apathy; how many reading this have read anything by Deborah Madison? It sometimes manifests as aggression; the comments section of any article mentioning Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee (who Bourdain once accused of “committing war crimes” with her food) are cesspools of gnashing, terrible teeth.

Artists, especially pop musicians, consume and then are consumed in turn. When men sing about their consumptions — sex, booze and yes, even food — it is palatable art: “Peaches;” “Jambalaya;” “Cherry Pie;” “Sex and Candy;” “Brass Monkey;” “Margaritaville;” “Banana Pancakes.”

Compare the YouTube metrics of those songs to the video for “Cold Pizza For Breakfast” by Christine Lavin. Or anything by Cibo Matto (a band inspired by and devoted to food). Where are the women’s hit classics about wallowing in sugary booze, vandalizing random fruit or convincing your partner eat a lavish breakfast instead of going to work?

In a culture obsessed with coffee and girl groups, The Puppini Sisters’ “Java Jive” should be more than just a niche gem. The industry that gave Weird Al a gold record for parodying Michael Jackson’s song about gang violence could have found something similarly worthy from a woman. The failure to do so when faced with list after list after list of great songs about food — obviously people think singing about food is important! — shows disappointing, diminished returns for visibility.

The songs from women that do get included, more often than not, center themselves as the purveyor of goods — or the goods themselves — rather than as the consumer. Yes, I’m connecting the dots between how Ina Garten is almost never seen cooking for her own damn self and the ways “Milkshake” fits with narratives about the proclivities and personalities of certain women who make certain types of music. Eat an unwashed warthog’s asshole and then fight me.

It’s funny when 50 Cent says he loves someone like “a fat kid loves cake,” but when Rihanna compares herself to a birthday cake (you know, a food we use as a milestone of intimacy and importance), she gets mocked and criticized.

It’s fine if a woman wants to be “a piece” (I mean, it’s not really fine; a bitch is someone who says no, and a slut is someone who says yes), but to want a piece, to enjoy it even, either earns them ire or earns them nothing at all.

We’re, for sure, not comparing Baudelaire to Tom Green — this is not a question of the veracity and profundity of subject matter. “Cherry Pie” is celebratorily juvenile and vapid. If you analyze it, it’s about a couple young lovers having sex in an empty house. If you take it at its word, it’s about a woman whose vagina is so pure it makes men cry. If it was released today, it’d be a men’s rights movement anthem.

(For the purposes of this critique, I am not including #LEMONADE — not only because the drink itself is employed as a metaphor but also because comparing anything by Beyonce to literally anything by Warrant would be to compare a good lobster roll eaten just far enough along on the beach that the tide touches your toes to losing your 13th trivia night in a row to a team of lobsters (who cheat).)

The heck with this. Women must demand our place at the table. I’m telling you and myself: the next time a dude I’m paying to help me record my songs about pineapple on pizza and bang bang chicken tells me that it’s “gimmicky” and “uncouth” and “it will be difficult enough to market your music because you’re, you know, fat and trans, this won’t help,” I’m going to ask him what’s so great about “Margaritaville.” Does that song really resonate with him and that one time he too ruined a sandal by stepping on a soda pop-top?

Or maybe I won’t bother. Maybe I should accept that guys like him, who got an audio engineering degree but miss the simplicity of 8-track, who created Soylent but write mocking 5-star reviews of Microwave Cooking For One, are probably not my best opportunity to challenge a phobia of women enjoying food and really, just the act of consuming, on a larger scale.

Be the country ballad about liking someone enough you’ll tolerance brunch with them you want to see in the world, I guess is where I’m going with this.

This extends beyond music: if you see someone shaming or snarling at a woman or otherwise femme-presenting person for taking pictures of their food, tweeting about it or wanting to wear french fry leggings, speak up. Tell that person to mind their own business and that Marcy Playground can attribute any lasting appeal to a misguided nostalgia for late-’90s over-polished facsimiles of grunge.

Then ask them if they know buffalo wings were created by a woman.

It’s time that women and non-binary identified people push for a place at the table as chefs, writers, eaters and artists. We, who are expected to prepare but not cook, to cook but not eat or eat but not revel.

Jetta Rae’s areas of interest include pinball, wrestling and what the patches on your denim vest mean to you.  She can be found at @jetta_rae on Twitter.

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