Opinion Print 2020

The Pleasure of Baking

Written by Melissa Woodley
Graphic by Hengjia Liu

This piece was originally published in ‘Pleasure and Danger’, Bossy’s 2020 print edition.

If you step into my apartment, you’ll be sure to find me in the kitchen, whisk in hand and flour smeared across my cheeks. More often than not, there’ll be something sweet in the oven and a stack of dishes piled high in the sink. I believe that cooking exists for pleasure, and I want my kitchen to be a place where my friends and I can share any kind of conversation over a comforting meal.

Stepping into the kitchen is always the first step that I take towards looking after myself. I crack 2 eggs into a bowl and whisk in 2 mashed bananas, 1/3 cup tahini, 1 ¾ cups oat flour, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. As I mix it all together, I enter into a world of focus that relieves me of my stress and worries. There’s nothing quite as pleasurable as watching the batter slide into the lined baking tin and rejoicing in that sweet, sweet smell.

Despite the pleasure that I take in baking, my time in the kitchen has become overshadowed with concerns. I want to feel comfortable in the kitchen and have the ability to cook for others, without feeling like I’m submitting to anti-feminist gender stereotypes. Can society reach a stage where this act is classified as neither feminine nor shameful? Can women reclaim cooking without it becoming a troubling throwback to an age of inequality?

Baking transports me into a world of happiness and provides me with a tool to share my love and joy with others. I fetch a fresh bowl and combine 1 cup oat flour, ¼ cup coconut sugar, 3-4 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp cinnamon. Using a fork, I gently fluff the mixture to create fine crumbs and sprinkle them over the batter. My heart skips a beat as I pop it in the oven at 180°C for 45-55 mins, proud that my cooking allows me to bring the best version of myself to the table.

Perhaps it is time for women to reclaim the kitchen. Knowing how to cook is a great act of independence, an incredible gift that can be passed on throughout generations. It can be an unconventional solution to stress, a gesture of love and care, or a way to nurture the relationships around me – and even the relationship that I have with myself. Choosing what ends up on my plate, controlling what I spend my money on, and caring for my body by learning about what it needs to thrive are all feminist acts that both men and women should be taking advantage to break down and subvert the warzone of gender roles in the kitchen.

The sweet combination of cinnamon and banana permeates the air. Ding ding ding, it’s ready! I fight my temptation to tuck right in, and instead let the delicious creation briefly cool. Slicing into the fresh banana bread feels like releasing a piece of heaven. As I take the first bite, my heart fills with happiness – baking really is the most pleasurable medicine to get me out of any funk.

Change is certainly underway, and we can see this subversion through the reclamation of cooking as an artistic and political endeavour by millennial women. While Becca Rea-Hollowasy (@thesweetfeminist) is using Instagram to bring attention to common challenges that women face today through the use of snappy quotes on her perfectly frosted cakes; Bon Appetit hero Alison Roman is helping to revolutionise dinner parties, shifting the focus from a woman being stuck in the kitchen to shared dining experiences that promote a sense of community.

For me, few things come close to the passion and sense of fulfilment I am rewarded with when baking. I have made the decision to adopt this act, not as fate or a chore, but as a hobby. Realising how powerful my time in the kitchen can be has enabled me to reconcile the ideas of baking and feminism, and I can now see a future that looks just as good as it tastes.

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