Friday, October 28, 2005

Dad's pancakes

Two of the most-watched TV programs around here are Franklin and Little Bear, cartoons on Noggin about anthropomorphic animals (Franklin is a turtle and you know what Little Bear is). Aside from having animals as characters, these shows represent very typical patriarchal families, much more so than prime-time programs for grownups. In children's cartoons, fathers are still wise and are always respected as the voice of authority. This would seem more retrograde, perhaps, if the characters weren't so cute and lovable.

Episodes of both shows I've seen recently contained scenes in which the father makes pancakes for the kid. This made me wonder why pancakes are a dish that men prepare, at least more than most dishes. It would be less likely to have a father in such a traditional family making a casserole or a roast, but pancakes are dad food in the same way that grilled meats are dad food. I understand at least some reasons why men grill meats, buy why do they make pancakes? My own father used to make pancakes for us when we were kids and I've seen other men of his generation making pancakes for breakfast or brunch. I make them too, but I do all the cooking so that isn't saying much.

I started searching Google for terms like "dad's pancakes" to see what I could find and I wondered if pancakes are among the most "dad" foods around. So I also searched for other "dad" foods like "dad's steak" and "dad's hamburgers" to compare the number of hits with those I got for "dad's pancakes." I found 689 hits for dad's pancakes, 560 hits for dad's steak, and 106 hits for dad's hamburgers.

(I'm a humanist not a social scientist so collecting and analyzing statistical data is not my forte. This is not meant to be rigorous research, obviously. I'm just fooling around here, but the results are at least interesting if not all that informative. Surely there are good reasons never to use search engine results as evidence of anything substantial. End of digression.)

I then thought it would be nice to have something to which I might compare these numbers, so I searched for the same foods using mom: mom's pancakes, mom's steak, mom's hamburgers. And the results were starting to get me really interested. So I kept searching mom and dad for a variety of foods and here's what I found.

Apple pie: dad 248, mom 41,500
Banana: dad 239, mom 14,200
Beef: dad 960, mom 936
Burgers: dad 247, mom 210/Hamburgers: dad 106, mom 1050
Chicken: dad 783, mom 20,200
Cole slaw/coleslaw: dad 10/12, mom 510/379
Duck: dad 10, mom 274
Egg nog: dad 59 mom 50
French toast: dad 53, mom 415
Fudge: dad 861, mom 469
Grilled cheese: dad 25, mom 106
Lamb: dad 62, mom 399
Lemon: dad 223, mom 922
Pancakes: dad 689, mom 696
Pork: dad 228, mom 1040
Potato salad: dad 409, mom 1400
Punch: dad 37 (some hits referring to fisticuffs), mom 485
Rice pudding bread: dad 568, mom 309
Scrambled eggs: dad 25, mom 64
Spaghetti: dad 349, mom 1810
Steak: dad 560, mom 241
Tuna: dad 92, mom 1670
Veal: dad 16, mom 113
Vegetable: dad 614, mom 858

So if Google is to tell us anything about pancakes, it's that dad and mom both make them. Pancakes are the food of gender equality: men and women alike like to heat up the griddle and wait until just the right moment to flip. Other foods are more clearly gendered. Steak is more dad-skewing. Dinner foods cooked in the kitchen rather than on the back porch, like spaghetti and chicken, are more likely to be mom foods. Burgers would seem to be mom and dad food until you look at the hits for hamburgers in the mom column. There's an explanation for that one: lots of hits referring to Eddie Murphy's movie Raw, in which he makes fun of his mother's cooking.

Some results are harder to explain. Why does dad make egg nog but not punch? Why does he make potato salad but not coleslaw? What's the story with dad's fudge? And what on earth is rice pudding bread?

Here are some ideas why pancakes are dad food: you cook them in your pajamas, you don't eat them every day, you have them on the weekend when dad is home, making them is fun, parents and kids can make them together. That's fine, but you could say alll the same things of French toast, which has a pathetic showing in the dad column. My interest in this question will continue.

Finally, here are the results for the kind of cooking we most associate with dad:

Barbecue: dad 670, mom 144
Barbeque: dad 574, mom 286
BBQ: dad 1400, mom 1290

(There's a restaurant in L.A. called Mom's BBQ, which at least partially explains the last line of data.)


Blogger Robyn said...

This is a really interesting google-experience you've done! No really, like something we'd talk about in one of my classes. :) One of my readings for "Food & Society" was actually about dads and pancakes (title, "Making Pancakes on Sunday: The Male Cook in Family Tradition", or overall about how when Dad makes something, it's more likely a special occasion than when Mom does it, which is...a chore, an every day thing. "The very fact that Dad usually makes pancakes on Sunday is enough to make Sunday breakfast special to the rest of the family; a successful recipe helps, but is not essential."

I didn't grow up with any special food, Dad or Mum-wise. HA HA HAARR (sob).

3:25 PM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Dear MZN,

This is very interesting indeed. I wonder if you are familiar with the article Making Pancakes on Sunday: The Male Cook in Family Tradition
Thomas A. Adler
Western Folklore > Vol. 40, No. 1, Foodways and Eating Habits: Directions for Research (Jan., 1981), pp. 45-54
I just took a peek at it today after reading your pancake post and I see it even mentions Milwaukee—Harmonic convergence! Adler reads Dad’s cooking as an inversion of Mom’s: His is festal, hers ferial; his is play, hers is work; his Sunday, hers every other day. This, however does not answer your question as to why not French toast?
I think it is because pancakes are more festal than French toast. Of course the two French-toast-preparation scenes that bookend the Dustin Hoffman Movie Kramer vs Kramer may well be classics of the Dad cooking canon, if such a thing exists. I believe in both cases he was making the French toast on a school day.
If this is something you want to dig into, have a look at “Mapping men onto the menu: Masculinities and food” a special issue of Food & Foodways 13:1-2 January—June, 2005, editied by Alice Julier and Laura Lindenfeld.
Off to foist culinary bibliography onto other unsuspecting by-standers,

2:10 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Thanks so much for the bibliography. I've requested the material from the library and will dig in as soon as it arrives.

There are also some similiar observations about the differences between men's and women's cooking in Sally Tisdale's book The Best Thing I Ever Tasted. Her point is that when men cook they prepare one meal and expect everyone to be impressed, but that what women typically do is more like catering: planning, buying, storing, preparing, serving, cleaning up, etc.

8:48 AM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

hi all. all this is quite interesting stuff to sink one's teeth in, so to speak. is there any work on what impact various national or ethnic or class differences have on family labor and cooking?

12:26 PM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Have a look at THE MIGRANT'S TABLE by Krishnendu Ray for really beautifully rich discussion on nation, ethnicity, class and cooking. This book is a real model for me—and how many writers can cite Czesław Miłosz and Tagore on a single page?

Ray, Krishnendu. The Migrant's Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Households. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.

12:39 AM  

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