Different from Our Parents, Starting in the Kitchen

Supermarkets have changed in the last thirty years. Indeed, they’ve had more than a face-lift since my childhood in the eighties, but the change I speak of is not the updated décor or the appearance of Redbox kiosks. Since those golden years, I have witnessed the appearance of “organic” foods, along with the disappearance of the time-worn question “paper or plastic?” Paper seems to have fallen by the wayside not only concerning bags, but also in methods of payment.

Different from Our Parents, Starting in the Kitchen

Despite these changes, there is yet something more noticeably different in today’s aisles that wasn’t present thirty years ago. I noticed this on a recent shopping trip. As I lazily pushed my buggy, a strange coincidence occurred when three male members of my church and I simultaneously converged at the seafood counter—I had even seen the male pastor just moments before. Afterward, I called my male barbeque guru friend to ask about a recipe. As I hung up the phone, it occurred to me that I could easily name a dozen male friends or co-workers who are the primary cooks in their homes.

While today’s grocery stores still sell groceries, there is every indication that a decade into the twenty-first century, men have increased in the aisles. This naturally raises a broader question: what other changes have taken place? I can’t fully answer that, but I do know of one related change—men are cooking more. Just last week, I heard of an annual local event called “Men Who Cook.” This doesn’t sound strange today, but thirty years ago, it would have raised more than a few eyebrows. In short, the tradition with which I grew up is changing, and I think that’s a good thing.

I am the primary cook in my house, but this was not always the case. Growing up, my mother cooked, just like both of my grandmothers did for their families. I never questioned this but, instead, welcomed the comfort and convenience of three mouth-watering meals a day. After college, I moved to China as an English teacher which would have been an ideal time to begin cooking for myself—alas, this was not the case. Instead, I religiously ate out for practically every meal. During those two years in China, though I failed to take on the responsibility of cooking for myself, I grew to love the almost limitless cuisine I encountered.

Back in the States, I still didn’t begin cooking until after I married, when an insatiable craving awoke in me for the beloved Chinese cuisine I’d missed the past few years. There was just one problem: no restaurant within five hours served anything close to what I was craving. Thus, I began my journey into cooking Chinese food.

Early in our marriage, my wife Ling was the primary cook, essentially following in our parents’ footsteps. I did the dishes when she pressed me to, but I generally tried to get out of as much housework as possible. I had my well-reasoned excuses, but it didn’t take long for me to see the error of my ways. With our parents, the husband had been the “bread-winner” and the mother, the “bread-maker.” Though this model worked for them, we soon began to notice a major inconsistency: unlike our parents, we were a dual-income family.

After a few heartfelt talks, Ling and I decided the division of household duties should be fair and balanced. Since we both worked, it only seemed right that we should both take care of the house. We had both heard the scriptures about the man being the head of the house, and the wife submitting to the husband. Of course, this was always followed up with a reminder that the husband should love the wife as Christ loved the church. Yet, we both realized something wasn’t jiving in our marriage as we tried to apply an old interpretation of scripture to a modern-day arrangement. We were both clear in our understanding that God’s word doesn’t change, and neither do His principles, so we took a deeper look at the scriptures.

Eventually, we came across the part in Ephesians where it instructs believers to submit to one another. Admittedly, this was a game changer for me. I wrestled with this for some time. Indeed, while it seemed fair to Ling, for myself, I felt like some “right” was being taken away from me. Yet there it was, plain as day in scripture.

After over five years, we are still working towards balance and submitting to one another, but we have come to realize that God has called us to serve unique roles in our marriage. Ling does submit to me, and I do love her as Christ loves the church, but we learned that more often than we’d like to admit, we both fall short in each of those commands. It is then when we return to the ideas of submitting to one another and of putting each other’s needs above our own.

The practical result of all of this is that, strangely, I have settled into the role of the cook. If for no other reason, I cook because it is the only way I can eat the food that I love—it helps that Ling likes it too.

It’s not that men weren’t cooking twenty years ago, and it’s not that women don’t cook now. But as I drove home from that bizarre shopping trip, I realized that in the West, there has been a shift in marriage roles. For me, it was because I wanted to eat good stir-fry. For my barbecue friend, it’s because he’s just a darn good cook. And though the reason for this role shift is different for each couple, the root is that necessity has birthed change, and it has emerged carrying fairness in one hand and creativity in the other. I don’t doubt that this change has taken other forms in marriages today—not every man is handy in the kitchen. Nevertheless, supermarkets are still changing, and I’m still eating well.

Matthew is a husband, a father to five dogs, a writer, a teacher, and an adventurer. He spent two years teaching and travelling in China, and since marrying Ling, visits Asia on a nearly annual basis. He currently lives with Ling in Central Louisiana where he teaches English, hikes, hunts, fishes, and enjoys the great outdoors. He is currently working on a memoir about his travels in China, and when teaching and adventuring allow him time, posts samples on matthewmstokes.wordpress.com.

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