Food engages with most of us through its necessity to our survival, its flavours, the community it brings, and even the enjoyment in the process of cooking. And while these aspects of food are fun, the politics of cooking cannot be left out of our understanding of food, especially as it relates to racialized migrant women.
Many of us have grown up in homes watching the women in our lives take charge of this aspect of the household. Ensuring that everyone is fed became a responsibility for women, and like most other types of labour women are assigned, is left unpaid and unacknowledged.
We need change, and Mom’s Kitchen Toronto is bringing it. But before we get there, let’s go over the facts.
Many statistics throughout the past few years support claims about the male-dominated restaurant industry. An article from NPR (NPR, “Women Chefs Still Walk 'A Fine Line' In The Kitchen”) highlights the disparity between men and women in the restaurant business in which women make up less than 7% of the lead chefs in restaurants in the United States. In the United Kingdom, only 17% of chefs are women (BBC, “Why are our professional kitchens still male dominated?”). And in Canada, unsurprisingly, men make up almost 60% of chefs and cooks. Women in Canada, on the other hand, make up more than 70% of the lower paying jobs in the field, such as support staff and kitchen helpers (CTV, “Female chefs say Canada's culinary industry changing for the better”).
A common theory within feminist groups, the dichotomy of the “public versus private spheres” highlights the spaces (or lack thereof) that women are allowed to take up in society. Basically, the private sphere is the women’s domain- indoors, and in charge of the household, with little to no control over the affairs of the outside world. The relevance of this theory to women’s current relationship with the labour of cooking is significant. Cooking exists both in the private and public sphere, and yet women are more likely to be taking on the job of cooking in the private sphere, in which their labour is unpaid.
Cooking, in this way, is pretty much seen as an extension of a woman’s ability to perform womanhood. Whilst men take up space in the world of professional cooking, where their skills are valued and paid for, women are expected to cook for the sake of serving others because it it seen as natural for them.
And just because a migrant woman has moved to a Western country, doesn’t mean she’s free from the confines of these patriarchal systems. Let’s not underestimate the unfortunate grasp the patriarchy has on mainstream societies across the world. In the 2019 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration by the Government of Canada’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department, it was found that immigrant women were less likely to participate in the labour force than men. The 2018 labour force participation for immigrant men was found to be 91.8% whereas immigrant women were at 77.7%.
The lack of labour force participation amongst immigrant women compared to immigrant men points to a lack of financial independence for this group of women. It deprives women of the ability to garner a sense of autonomy as they navigate life in Canada, forcing them instead to be dependent on the typically-male breadwinners of the household. In the long run, this does a lot to damage a woman’s confidence in her own abilities, and prevents her from being wholly independent.
The reality is simple: women cook at home for others because they are expected to. And yet this simple reality, through its roots in the patriarchy, permeate women’s lives and render them co-dependent and financially unstable. Mom’s Kitchen Toronto gives racialized migrant women the opportunity to take their power back. Yes, the women employed cook from home, but this time, things are different. Cooking from home for these women means employment and independence, it means financial stability, it means sharing their vibrant cultures, and it means establishing themselves as respected cooks in their communities.
For many migrants in Canada, and especially for women, the job market is a major hurdle. Although the majority of immigrant women, as mentioned above, are active in the labour force, things are not as simple as just being a working woman. How much of a choice do racialized migrant women have in the jobs they work? To what extent do they get to pursue their passions? Do the jobs they work pay them fairly? Do they have protected rights as workers even though they might not all be citizens? Do their jobs help lift them out of poverty?
An article from the Toronto Star (Toronto Star, “Immigrant women in Canada earn less, face more employment challenges: government report”) writes about how data collected from Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act highlights the wage disparities between migrant women and their male counterparts and Canadian-born women, with migrant women earning the least. The data also shows that many women come as spouses of economic-immigrants, or as non-economic migrants that are not employed as much and earn less when they are employed.
So when you take into account this information, it really highlights the importance of taking action the way Mom’s Kitchen Toronto does. It’s a model predicated on financially uplifting women because there are so many systems put in place that make it hard for racialized migrant women to have their own income on their own terms.
And of course, this is about more than just financially empowering women. The patriarchy is very much intertwined with the diffusion of poverty in our societies. This is why Mom’s Kitchen Toronto, through empowering women, results in helping whole communities of lower-income and marginalized identities. In following a pay-what-you-can model, those who struggle to pay for food, and who are often marginalized women, are able to afford access to this basic necessity. There is an important link between investing in marginalized women and their skills, and seeing positive results in the communities they are a part of. Mom’s Kitchen Toronto doesn’t just aide in women gaining agency through cooking, it helps ensures that these women’s communities are fed as well.
Even as overwhelming as it is to live in a world that normalizes the oppression of the marginalized, it’s community-based initiatives such as this that allow us to overcome the chains of suppressive systems. We choose to invest in women, in their labour and in their futures, and in doing so, we invest in the most marginalized members of their communities. In supporting Mom’s Kitchen Toronto, we challenge the links between women’s cooking and the patriarchy, because we can see a world where investing in the marginalized means helping whole communities flourish.
Links to Sources
Government of Canada Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship