• Food for Thought: Divisions of Labour

    by and  • May 15, 2012 • Essays • 2 Comments

    One thing we’ve learned over the years is that hungry gamers are grumpy gamers. We’ve also learned that a good food experience makes for a better night than an utterly forgettable one.

    Food for Thought is a series where we talk about food at the table.

    Divisions of Labour

    Some dishes or food takes more time to prepare than others. And like the issue of the cost of food, you don’t really want to end up burdening one player more-so than the others. So how you do create a sense of equality? Or is it even worth while to bother?

    In this week’s Food for Thought, we’ll discuss how we’ve dealt with the oddities of skill levels and cooking time and “being fair”.

    Finaira: One hand washes the other.

    Given that I tend to like making new and complicated desserts I often have to prepare myself one to two days in advance to get everything ordered. I have to make a special trip to the grocery store and I have to set aside time to make the food. And yes, it can be a little disheartening to show up with a cake that took me hours to prepare and find that everyone else is ordering pizza.

    But when that feeling that I’m putting in all the effort and my friends are just buying crackers and cheese starts to get to me (almost never, these days), I just admit that I’m a busy person and that sometimes I get to pick the easy dishes too. A bag of chips and some fresh vegetables are easy to bring to game.

    And knowing that if I’m going to be overwhelmed by my schedule, I’ve learned that it’s not a cop-out to just go buy something instead. Sure people prefer home-cooked to store-bought, but trading off on the long-prep time foods with others keeps one person from being stressed out. Also, it lets everyone take a shot at being at the table first while someone else prepares food.

    In the end, it’s not a question of being perfectly equitable around the table. It’s about being willing to trade off who is doing what so that everyone gets to enjoy themselves and can work to match their budgets and skills.

    Kim: Oh, look, an elephant….

    All right, so let’s grab this tiger by the tail, shall we? The stereotype is that women do all the cooking in the home and men can’t be taught to boil water even with the aid of a manual1. Now, I’m sure every one of us could point to individuals who break those stereotypes but that’s not what I’m addressing here. I’m talking about the existence of these stereotypes and what they might mean for your table.

    Women are taught that cooking is something that they ought to be able to do. Now, if you think about it logically, not teaching men to also be able to cook and feed themselves seems a little silly but maybe that’s why women are also taught to be culinary providers. A man who can’t feed others isn’t especially noticed; a woman who can’t feed others has something wrong with her. Being judged this way is not cool but the stereotypes persist.

    So, as a feminist, how do I deal with being a woman who enjoys cooking and providing for people? How do I deal with men who don’t know which end of the wooden spoon to use? How do I approach people who don’t fit the stereotype?

    Stereotypes don’t refer to real, actual people.  Stereotypes are social and cultural constructs which exist as a sort of mental shortcut to allow us to come to snap judgments about people. The idea is that if certain things are true, then other things must be true as well because these things cluster together. For example, if you’re a woman, you should cook. From there, if you buy into the stereotype, then you can make judgments about a person based on how you value the stereotype. For instance, if you think the “women are good cooks” thing is valid, then you can draw conclusions about someone’s worth as a woman based on their cooking. Conversely, you can draw conclusions about someone’s worth as a man if they turn out to be a good cook because they transcend the stereotype of being a bad cook. Treating a stereotype as truth is problematic and often draws a lot of criticism.

    The thing to is, people might fit the stereotypes but they also exist as people above and beyond the stereotypes. Saying that someone fits a stereotype  and then dismissing them out of hand or leaving it at that lacks a lot of nuance, at best. People don’t exist to be slotted into a social construct; social constructs exist to try to categorize people. My love of cooking isn’t caused by my womanhood just because they happen to correlate. As it happens, my love of cooking is tied to my love of science. This doesn’t mean, of course, that our underlying assumptions and biases show up at the table. The thing to remember is that going out of your way to defy a stereotype, at the expense of something you love, reinforces it as much as following it to the letter. It doesn’t mean, however, that you have to walk on a tightrope whenever you sit down at your gaming table. Has everyone put in effort to make the table a good place to eat and game? Has everyone taken the time to actually think about what people will do and what they are capable of, rather than make assumptions based on gender or some other completely unrelated metric? Then I think your table’s doing okay.

    Words from the peanut gallery

    Does one person in your group do most of the food preparation? How do you divide up labour? What works best and how has that changed over the years?

    1. This doesn’t hold true in professional circles, by the way, where men are often higher up in the food chain (ha ha) because they cook as a career.


    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.



    I'm a tabletop roleplayer, a larper and a video gamer. I run games, play games, remix games, talk about games, critique games, read games and have opinions about games. Sometimes, I do that online. I also have a passing fondness for making food.

    2 Responses to Food for Thought: Divisions of Labour

    1. avatar
      Michelle Lyons-McFarland
      May 15, 2012 at 22:43

      My husband does the cooking. He’s so much better at it than I am. This is not to say my food is not tasty, but the entire thing is a chore and a time-scheduling horror for me, whereas for him it’s like gaily skipping through a meadow.

      He also is the designated cook/chef for our gaming group. People can either bring ingredients or throw in cash and he’ll make dinner for everyone. We will occasionally have “fend for yourself” nights, but he enjoys entertaining and enjoys cooking for a bunch of people, so cook he does.

      I’m a deeply fortunate person, frankly. I don’t know how I got this lucky.

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    2. avatar
      June 3, 2012 at 21:15

      After reading Kim’s reason for cooking I have an urge to all caps for science, as that is also the reason I cook, as a chemist I find the mysteries of cooking fascinating.

      Also have you ever had a sporadic event where people just told you they were showing up after you said in a conversation over the phone that you were preparing (specific or non-specific) ingredients for cooking a large meal that you will cook several times trough out the next day or two?

      I ask because this happened to me the last time I made a batch of mekike dough my brother mentioned it on the phone and we ended up with an evening of conversation, TV and sporadic eating (we could have easily done an RPG session instead of the talking and TV watching if the company we had over were into RPGs).

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