Librarian's Challenge


Tigger Heraldry

My Picks

Small Events

How-To Why-To Tales What-Not Opinion "T.C.M."
Updates FAQ PDFs Tech

[Image link to SCAdia Home Page]

Kitchen Chauvinism

By Seamas Mac Daibhid

Last Updated April XLII (2008)

APRIL, AS XXXVI (2002): The Society for Creative Anachronism is a volunteer organization. Virtually all of its events and business operations are carried out by volunteer labor. "Kitchen Chauvinism" is aimed at those people who forget this simple fact.

About nine years ago, in May, AS XXVIII (1993), I wrote a very angry open letter as an article for the Smythkepe Cronicle, the newsletter of the Shire of Smythkepe (now renamed The Forge). At that time we were only about two weeks from our fifth "Midsummer Knight's Dream" event. The June Cronicle actually appeared only a a day or two before the event, and my letter probably did more harm than good, as tempers were still high when we all arrived on site.

However, the basic attitude I expressed then is one I had already argued for at least two years, and have continued to argue ever since. When I conceived the SCAdia Grumblings, "Kitchen Chauvinism" was a natural topic.

But when I tried to rewrite "Kitchen Chauvinism," I discovered that a general editorial, however well thought out, simply didn't have the effectiveness of my original rant, inspired by an announcement at a shire meeting that every shire member would be assigned at least one shift in the kitchen. Therefore I have chosen, with reservations, to present the original angry article as it was written for the Smythkepe Cronicle, with only two omissions where a person's name has been struck out, and with some explanatory (or apologetic) comments added in the same style as these opening paragraphs. As with any of my Grumblings, comments are invited and appreciated.

Here follows the original article, with all anger and emphasis preserved:

IN THE EARLY 1800's, after Napoleon was tromped at Waterloo, a former soldier of his armies made a name for himself by his loud and forceful declarations of loyalty to Napoleon and of vengeance to come. The stage comics of the day made the soldier, Nicolas Chauvin, into a notorious figure of fun, and chauvinism became a common term for blind and excessive patriotism. In recent decades, it has come to mean blind conviction that one group of people is inherently superior to another.

In the last year or so I have seen the growth of a disturbing attitude I name kitchen chauvinism—the idea that, no matter how hard you work at a Smythkepe event, if you aren't working in the kitchen, your efforts aren't worth spit. Or, more generally: If you aren't willing to do anything asked of you in Smythkepe's name, you aren't a worthwhile shire member. As I have seen and heard it, this dangerous and dishonorable attitude has alienated several shire members.

I am one of the alienated ones. Smythkepe nearly lost me back in January, when I heard "everyone in the shire" was angry about things I did or didn't do at Dunstan V. [That is, the fifth "Unofficial Feast of St. Dunstan," held at Lake Fort Smith State Park. I was seneschal of Smythkepe at the time, and abandoned the office a few weeks later due in large part to the fallout from that event.] I was told in January that Moira and I were the only shirefolk (besides new people) who sat at feast. [N.B. New members in Smythkepe are forbidden to work more than moderate amounts at their first shire event.] Well, I was told before feast that Lady Roheis had plenty of servers; I saw my lady sitting down for feast (she tells me that she heard no more help was needed), so I decided to sit with her for the first time all day. Evidently, some people didn't think I earned that time with her.

Heed this: I do not extend to any person or recognize in any person the right, authority or privilege of defining the scope of my duty or of assessing my fulfillment of my duty. Simply: I decide my duty, and I say how much is enough; I have the right to say NO. I say we all have the right to say NO. Kitchen chauvinists say we don't.

Except for heralding the list, which was started early without telling me, I did everything I promised to do for Dunstan V, plus many jobs that just came up (including one nasty job that other people were avoiding [A toilet in the kitchen was backed up; I just took a plunger to it. No big deal]). As I said above, evidently some people didn't think that was enough. I say that it is not their decision.

I state now: I have no intention of working in the kitchen at Midsummer Knight's Dream 5. If someone says, "We need help right now, and you are all we can find," then I will help—regardless of the task involved, as I have always done when so asked—but otherwise I stay clear of the kitchen. Furthermore, I encourage anyone else with strong preferences to voice those preferences and stick with them.

Some of you may think I don't have the right to state such a preference. I see it like this: If you can tell me, "You owe it to the Shire to do kitchen work," then why can't I say, "You! You owe the shire a term as seneschal"? I have the right. Everyone has the right.

Look at it this way: Everyone has things he or she [1] loves to do, [2] likes to do, [3] is indifferent about, [4] doesn't like to do but will do anyway, and [5] would rather eat dung than do. The SCA is a volunteer organization; we don't have the right to expect someone to do anything that falls in his or her personal Category [5].

[In fact, I had originally signed up to check and clean the bathrooms for most of the day—a duty which falls in Category [4] or [5] for many people—since I would be heralding the event and would be roaming the site almost continuously anyway. I was informed at the last event meeting—the one that provoked this letter—that I'd been removed from that duty (except for one time slot during feast) and had been assigned to a kitchen shift.]

Yet that is exactly what kitchen chauvinism demands. How often have I heard people say, "If it isn't fun, you should stop"? Attempt to push people into kitchen work—or push them into any duty in their personal Category [5]—and you take the fun out of the SCA for them. Do we really want everyone but kitchen chauvinists to leave the shire?

I started giving my "The SCA is a Volunteer Organization" speech right after we hosted Spring Coronation in 1991, but never thought I would one day invoke it on my own behalf; I am still shocked and offended at the necessity. I have done almost everything I ever felt this shire needed me to do. A reminder: I never wanted to be seneschal, but Lady Keira [who was moving away and had to give up the office] said she couldn't find anyone else. I took the office because I was told the shire needed me to take it.

I have worked at all eleven events Smythkepe has held [ten, actually; MSKD V was to be our eleventh official event, unless I've lost one somewhere], and have never heard complaints about my efforts before Dunstan V. I've served feast several times, something I've never done for any other shire. I have sometimes even worked in the kitchen (or at pre-cooks), despite the fact that kitchen work (for several reasons) falls solidly in my own Category [5]. I've done many things I didn't want to do—but because I was willing to do them for Smythkepe, not because someone told me I owed them to Smythkepe.

[I wanted to strike the entire preceding paragraph, as it sounds too much like boasting to me now. But for the continuity of my argument I had to leave it in. One point in which I take pride, and about which I am not ashamed to boast: as of April XLII the "eleven events Smythkepe has held" is now thirty-three official events, and I've worked every single one.]

The upshot: I expect to work as hard at Midsummer 5 as I have at most of our events, but, thanks to the rise of kitchen chauvinism, I have chosen to pay guest price instead of shire price. My reason is simple: If I don't pay shire price, no one can claim the right to question whether I do my share. Not that anyone has that right to begin with—I just won't let anyone sustain the illusion that he or she has it. I will do what I can at Midsummer, and what I am asked to do; I will not do one solitary thing that I am ordered to do, or that anyone tells me it is my duty to do.

It is my understanding that some other shire members have chosen to forgo the shire discount. For anyone else who has been feeling alienated lately, I say this: DO WHAT YOU WILL, AND DO NOT LET OTHERS DEFINE YOUR "DUTY" FOR YOU. The SCA is a volunteer organization, and you are one of the volunteers. Don't let anyone else "volunteer" you for any job you despise.

To any kitchen chauvinist, if you perceive yourself as one, I say this: DO WHAT YOU WILL, AND LET OTHER PEOPLE DO WHAT THEY WILL. The SCA is a volunteer organization, but don't assume that anything you volunteer for is something everyone else should be willing to do.


  1. I am speaking for myself. In this article, I am not speaking as an officer of Smythkepe; nor should the opinions I express here be assumed to be those of any person associated with me.
  2. I am not putting down people who work in kitchens. I respect kitchen workers tremendously, all the more because I won't do it. [In fact, I dedicated an entire chorus of my "Twenty-Dollar Rag" to kitchen people.]
  3. This article is not particularly aimed at Lady _______ or Lady _______. Yes, I believe I have heard both of them say they expected everybody to work a shift in the kitchen, but it is my feeling that as autocrats of Midsummer they became the voices of an attitude that is widespread in the shire.
  4. This article is not particularly aimed at you. You, gentle reader, are free to take this article personally, but don't decide that you are the one particular person it is about. This article is aimed at anyone anywhere; I am attacking an attitude, not any person or group.

That's all. Do with it what you wish.

That's not quite all, any more. At the risk of beating the topic to death, I'd like to emphasize my central points:

  • The SCA is a volunteer organization! We must not forget this, ever. Attendance at a meeting or an event does not obligate you (or me, or anyone) to do anything other than watch and enjoy yourself. Each person in the SCA sets his own personal standards for performance and duty.
  • Just because you think a particular job is important, don't assume I agree! We all have our own priorities in the SCA; the trick is to draw all our strengths together to make a unified event. Your kitchen people may not be good at teaching classes, and your lists mistress may not be able to chop carrots without hurting herself.
  • Just because you think a particular job is disgusting, don't think it needs to be spread around! I think kitchen work is one of the worst jobs in the world, and I'll do almost any other job to avoid it. But I know there are other people who don't mind it so much (while thinking that troll duty or bathroom duty is the worst). Don't try to distribute an unpleasant job equally across your entire work force; let the people who don't mind it as much handle it.
  • If you say you'll do something, stick to it! Don't promise yourself to jobs that you won't carry through.
  • If you say you won't do something, stick to it! Don't let someone else persuade you that you "owe" your group a shift at something you can't stand.

· Top of Page · · SCAdia Home Page · · Practical Articles · · Research Articles · · Histories & Tales · · Oddments & Pastimes · · Grumblings & Other Opinions · · "The Creative Mundane" · · Mail Feedback & Guest Book · · Updates & Revisions · · Frequently-Asked Questions · · Available PDF Downloads · · Technical Web Geek Stuff ·

SCAdia: Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, Seamas Mac Daibhid. All rights reserved. Except where otherwise specified, reproduction or redistribution of this material in any form is prohibited. SCAdia is written and edited by Seamas Mac Daibhid. Some material is used by permission of other authors; copyright resides with them and will be noted where appropriate.

SCAdia is not an official web site of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.. and does not delineate official Society policy. While much of the material on SCAdia is instructional or educational, much of it is provided entirely for entertainment. SCAdia makes no claim to support the Society's substantially educational purpose, and should not be considered to reflect upon the Society directly. SCAdia is also not an official web site of the Shire of Smythkepe or the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS 2.1