by Bronchelle Parker
Can you make macaroni and cheese from scratch? A male co-worker of mine once asked me that during a casual conversation. And honestly, being on the receiving end of that question as an unmarried, unattached, and at the time, 24 year-old gal was a bit overwhelming for me. Why, you ask? Well, because I couldn’t make macaroni and cheese from scratch…just kidding. That trepidation I felt in the pit of my stomach came more from the notion that a man was harmlessly asking me a question I’m almost certain he wouldn’t have uttered to a fellow male co-worker; I’d collided with one of society’s not-so-fun stereotypes of women head-on: all of us should know how to cook. And, even though my mother is not someone who taught me and my sisters to believe that cooking skills were at the helm of womanhood, something about this guy’s question must’ve rattled my Spice Girls Girl Power because I remember immediately playing a completely irrational game of Fifty Questions: Female Stereotypes Edition with myself once his question really marinated (no pun intended). Should I know how to cook from scratch? Would that make me more womanly? Is spinsterhood the ultimate fate of remedial cooks like me?
The answer is a resounding of course not. Yet, for whatever reason I briefly relegated the majestic labyrinth that is womanhood to a single box by entertaining this one idea that cooking-ness may be next to womanliness. We have the biological honor of being able to carry another human inside of us, and here I was grappling with this shallow concept that maybe I was less of a woman because I’m not Rachael Ray in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for thinking that. And, please don’t get me wrong, I do think there’s a beauty in women cooking for their families and basking in the enjoyment they get from watching their loved ones feast on the fruits of their culinary labors. But, just like knowing his way around a toolbox doesn’t define the man, knowing her way around a kitchen doesn’t define the woman. It’s an age-old platitude, but oh so grand to hear every now and again, especially in a seemingly progressive world that somehow still doesn’t always acknowledge the evolution of gender roles.
Growing up, my dad actually did a lot of the cooking in our house. Not because my mom couldn’t, but because it just wasn’t exactly her forte. And, my dad was okay with that. It didn’t make Mama any less mama. She nourished me and my sisters’ young appetites in other ways. With her unconditional love. Her playfulness. Her listening ears. Her precious wisdoms, one of which was this: “What’s going on inside of you is always what matters most. Strive to be a good person, a beautiful person.” How’s that for soul food? My mother taught me that the core of who I was as a person was more significant than any dish that I would ever whip up, more significant than any macaroni made from scratch. My-core-roni is the tastiest part of my female self.
My core is where my passions and dreams are realized. Where my personal beliefs slumber. And, where the love I have to give jumps for joy. In retrospect, I’m grateful for that question I got because it compelled me to look at who I was as a woman with a fresh pair of eyes and re-appreciate the fact that I’m more than macaroni. I’m not a gourmet cook, and that’s ok because you know what? I’ve got a gourmet core. And, if I’m ever blessed to have a little girl of my own someday, I’ll proudly share that same outlook with her. “Can I make macaroni and cheese from scratch?” Perhaps. But, I’m so much more than macaroni. And, so are you.
Bronchelle Parker is a New Orleans native. Writer. Sweets-eater. And, lover of good picture books. She’s an avid fan of limitless imaginations. And, finds immense pleasure in the notion that one day she’ll be able to share her stories with hundreds (dare she say millions?) of children who also love a good picture book.