Lucinda Scala Quinn has spent a lot of her career cooking for women. And not just any women, but Martha Stewart’s women—the types who watch Martha’s , Everyday Food on PBS or snip recipes from Martha Stewart Living, both of which Quinn oversees as the head of the company’s food group. Needless to say, cocktail parties all over Connecticut wouldn’t be the same without her.
In her family life, however, Quinn has cooked only for men. She grew up with only brothers and went on to have three children, all of them boys. Her newish cookbook, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys (Artisan), is filled with the recipes she’s employed to satiate the guys in her life. And as the title suggests, it’s also filled with enough stereotypes to knock the wind out of any proper liberal-arts-school graduate.
As a graduate of the school of liberalism (Oberlin, to be specific), I paraded the book past friends and coworkers, damning it for trafficking in ideas that were supposed to be dead by now. I was offended on multiple counts: on behalf of women, who the book seems to suggest should be spending all their time cooking food that’s not for them. On behalf of men, since the book is full of only “big” food—Asian chicken wings, chocolate pudding, skirt steaks (our Neanderthal-like palate couldn’t possibly be refined enough to appreciate food more delicate). And, especially, on behalf of young people.
This is a cookbook for families, but I shudder to think about the dynamics in a family that takes the book too literally. Food doesn’t discriminate against kids of either gender—“Big flavors are seductive for everybody,” Quinn aptly put it over the phone—but kids eventually learn to discriminate against it. Often it’s a vague notion of “society” that’s blamed for making girls grow into teenagers who obsess over their weight (and boys who grow up to eat lunches of Slim Jims and Red Bull). But in a house where pork chops are identified as “boy food,” it’s pretty clear where “society” is seeping in. And it won’t take long until it seeps past the dinner table.
It’s certainly not Quinn’s intention to push boys toward “boy’s food” and girls toward “girl’s.” (She told me that had this been a book about feeding girls, the book would have many of the same recipes.) She just thinks it’s a little silly of us to pretend that boys and girls eat the same way. “I think it’s entirely PC not to reach into some of the ways we’re different, and classify, describe and understand things,” she says. Quinn isn’t trying to create a divide with this book—simply to address it.
She’s smart to do so, but Mad Hungry participates too willingly in the problematic framework to really effect any change. That’s not to say it’s not a good cookbook. In fact, it’s much the opposite: After talking smack about it for a few days, I found myself seduced by the gorgeous photos and the simple and enticing recipes. Quinn had not just stirred my liberal sensibilities—she had induced a pang, a primal hunger for a meaty, family-style dinner. The shame is that if the book had a different conceit, it would likely evoke the same feeling in women.
Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys is available at amazon.com.