Cooking as a Way to Cope with the #METOO Era
#86this: Main Menu
By Kat Harding
I’d only been living in North Carolina for three months when #MeToo hit a fever pitch. I’d recently left Nashville, Tennessee, and a job in the music industry to be a publicist and social media manager for the biggest art museum in North Carolina. I was finally living with my long-distance boyfriend of more than two years. Everything was looking up: anxiety managed, friends in the making, and a surprisingly low number of disagreements with my partner.
Then #MeToo took over. I was submerged in stories of harassment, abuse, rape, and more, almost all day every day. In my career I am, by default, tied to social media. I constantly check on what international conversations are happening and assess if there are productive and appropriate ways for my museum to engage, as well as respond to any comment on the museum’s feeds. I keep an eye on what’s trending and where I can pitch relevant stories about the museum. This time spent on social media inevitably makes me witness to not only professionally relevant posts, but also the #MeToo stories. Even now, my feeds are filled with women from all walks of life sharing their trauma. It has been exhausting and, while cathartic for many, I am tired of women having to lay bare their deepest pain for people to finally take harassment and assault seriously. Everyday I was reading stories that mirrored my own—of people groped in middle school, harassed in high school, raped in college, hassled on the job. With every story I felt a new pang of guilt that I didn’t talk about it sooner—could I have prevented something from happening to someone I care about? My darkest, most buried memories flooding all to the surface. I talked to my best friend about it constantly. “Remember when this happened?” “Oh my god, I’d totally forgotten.” We all remembered now.
I threw myself into “homemaking,” connotations of the term be damned. I built a spot just for me and my boyfriend and decorated with things we love, art that brings joy, and plenty of records to spin. I started cooking—a lot. I got every cookbook I could get my hands on, including Cherry Bombe’s. I went to their book tour stop in the neighboring town of Durham to listen to prominent local food industry women (Chefs Andrea Reusing, Katie Button, Vivian Howard, and Phoebe Lawless) talk about their experiences with sexual harassment and what needs to change in their industry—in every industry. It was hopeful in that there are so many wonderful female chefs and restaurant folks in the area, but devastating in that we’re all facing the same problems. Is nowhere safe for women?
Cooking has become my solace. I read my cookbooks before going to bed, unplugging from social media and email, setting myself up for dreams of perfectly caramelized onions, roasted chicken, and unforgettable salted chocolate chip cookies.
I go to the grocery store almost every night after work, clutching my list as tightly as my sanity, bringing home what I need and immediately turning on the oven and off my phone.
I get lost in my cast iron skillet, letting fragrant garlic take me away (who needs Calgon, right?). The first time I made carne adovada from Cosecha’s Chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros, I thought I’d never stop smiling. Lemongrass-and-ginger-brined chicken from Chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl fed my soul. Cooking has become my #1 act of self care, followed very closely by a Sephora addiction. (Maybe I do need Calgon!) I’ve curated my personal Instagram feed down to photos of towering cakes, colorful roasted veggies, and elegant table settings for perfect dinner parties.
I have a lot of family in Nashville that I miss fiercely everyday. When I moved to the city after graduate school, I spent a lot of time at my grandma Mum’s house. She always had a home-cooked meal for me and would send me away with leftover country ham, biscuits, and chicken à la king. After she passed, my family’s gathering spot became my Aunt Joyce’s house, who kept my wine glass full and my heart happy. The women in my family have always gravitated to the kitchen, the epicenter of the home, the closest spot to a fresh drink and a snack. Joyce tragically died right before I moved and it pains me not to share my newfound desperate love of cooking with her. The family has regrouped and found a new center—my cousin Courtney is now the host and carries on our traditions with her ever-open door and warm oven, making it look so easy. I think of these women while I’m cooking to keep going.
We all do what we must to survive, and I’m doing a task that nourishes me in so many ways, sharing with my boyfriend, friends, and family. I cooked a big dinner for my family on Christmas Eve this year, a recipe I’d mastered one evening at home in North Carolina, encrusting a pork loin in cornbread crumbs and herbs, avoiding the news for a few blissful hours.
I know I can’t stay off the Internet forever, and I wouldn’t want to, but the kitchen has given me peace like no other activity before. So while #MeToo and the necessary conversations rage on, I tune out for a little bit and emerge on the other side stronger, with a full stomach, ready to face the day again.
Kat Harding is a music and arts publicist and writer. She enjoys wine, trying new beers, reading, and occasionally going out in public. She lives in North Carolina with her squeaky little kitty Goose, her boyfriend, and his gigantic cat Mr. Kitty.