This piece was written for Blackbird Lab's substack, The Supersonic.
Don’t satirize your #AlmondMom on TikTok, take her out to dinner instead
Imagine yourself as Gwyneth Paltrow for a day: you start with a nice intermittent fast, snack on a few things that won’t “spike your blood sugar,” then it’s onto bone broth for lunch followed by a nice paleo dinner, both meals supporting “your detox.” Oh, and you make sure to do one hour of movement, or so the actress declares in a controversial clip about her “wellness routine” — one in which critics claim the Goop founder regresses to a toxic dieting culture that’s no longer acceptable.
TikTok has another name for Ms. Paltrow and the eating habits she espouses: “Almond Mom.” In case the platform’s scary good algorithm hasn’t served any such videos in your feed, an Almond Mom is the type of mother who still adheres to the restrictive dieting culture of the 1990s. You know, back when many women let their food consumption—or lack thereof—be determined by the self-denying principle of “nothing tasted as good as skinny felt.” If that sounds dated it’s because it is. And yet Ms. Paltrow is not alone in reviving such trends. In terms of celebrity Almond Moms, she replaces self-proclaimed #worstmomever, Yolanda Hadid, who earned the title while telling daughter Gigi to solve weakness and fatigue by having a couple of almonds and “[chewing] them really well.”
Almond Moms are not limited to Oscar winners and Real Housewives alums. They’re…everywhere. And not only are they denying themselves everything from cake to the more benign complimentary chips or bread to “save” for the entree, they’re also preaching the gospel to their children. Or, more specifically, to their daughters, all in a bid to convert these kids to their joyless food religion.
This being the era of stitched videos and story time and all other manners of memes, Almond Daughters have of course taken a stand, imitating their mothers on TikTok. In so doing, they have digitally joined forces to exhume these food and dining rules from their childhood. Still, they show some empathy, too. They know that their Almond Moms aren’t foisting these standards upon them out of malice but rather out of habit. Almond Moms came of age during an era that encouraged women to be hungry and resist, to go to restaurants in search of salad, low-fat options, something without protein, carbs, or whatever culture decided women should or should not eat that year.
What these parodying TikToks haven’t done, however, is connect the Almond Mom with the fraught history women have long faced regarding their access to restaurants — a history in which restriction was more literal and physical. It’s an interesting and at times shocking story about female independence within the food world, and this broader context deepens the meaning—and irony—of the Almond Mom.
Ice Cream Saloons and Bar Fights Early restaurants barred entry to a single woman and only allowed groups of women to dine during non-prime lunch hours. Journalist Kimberly Wilmot Voss explains that “men only had a limited time to eat lunch and women would [supposedly] monopolize tables as they gossiped and ate slowly.” ‘Women's restaurants’ appeared as places for women to lunch after shopping — “Ice Cream Saloons,” “Tea Rooms,” establishments offering food “for women.” Men ate and drank for sustenance and fun—steaks and alcohol—while women ate light fare and decadent desserts — oysters and ice cream, small sandwiches and candies. Historian Paul Freedman points out the long-standing notion “that women combine abstemiousness with indulgence,” that women don’t eat to fulfill hunger, but oscillate between restriction and delicacy. American media still drips this oscillation, from hyper-disciplined “What I eat in a Day” videos, to sporadic, junk food, manic-pixie-dream-woman diets like the (still thin) Gilmore Girls. Prohibition and WWI shook up restaurant gender segregation, but it wasn’t fully challenged until the 1960s and ‘70s, when going to a restaurant as a woman was a form of protest in and of itself. By escaping their homes—places where women were the chefs yet never bore such a title—women made restaurants almost feminist adjacent spaces. Restaurants provided a break, a haven outside of domesticity leading up to and throughout the mass discontent captured by The Feminine Mystique.
The Almond Mom debate continues to rage on TikTok; via Distractify
The last of the gendered restaurants yielded in 1970, responding to demonstrations at and lawsuits against men-only restaurants organized by the National Organization of Women (NOW) and others. Following a lawsuit, a Kentucky law that “[forbade] women from drinking… at the bar” was repealed, while a New York ale house admitted “women for the first time in… 116-year[s].” The latter was no easy feet, with the VP of NOW physically fighting the bartender for her right to drink at said ale house and having a beer poured over her head by an angry man — baby steps, right? The oft-used analogy of “taking a seat at the table,” has literal meaning within restaurant history. Women fought for admission, a table during lunch hours, a stool at the bar. But what’s interesting is that Paltrow and other Almond Moms fought in their own way too. They fought to fit into a restrictive definition of beauty in pursuit of society’s favor, and while the past few years marks a cultural shift away from pervasive diet culture, it is difficult for the Almond Mom to join, because control through restriction may be all she’s ever known.
Take Your Mama Out Tonight
Almond Moms (from celebrity to suburban) grasp for control — control over what one eats, control over how one looks, control over how one is treated based on how one looks, all of which is part and parcel of this subversive power struggle where women deny themselves satiation in pursuit of their own humanization. Herein lies the essential paradox: Almond Mom would rather eat at home for maximum control over ingredients, though Almond Mom would have more fun and feel more alive (!) meeting friends for tapas at Ernesto’s. The luxury of a restaurant experience is letting go of control instead of reaching into one's own pantry and/or cooking in one's own kitchen. The luxury of letting someone else determine the plate, trusting that they pour love, care, and themselves into it, just as the chefs who were only ever called mother or wife did for their families perpetually. And at this crux, we find the true experiential joy of women dining in restaurants within the broader historical context. Women were always caretakers, controlling the basic human needs of family models. By going to a restaurant, they can let go while someone else controls nourishment for them.
So yes, Almond Moms deserve empathy. Many Almond Daughters have declared that “they did the best with the tools they had.” But Almond Moms also deserve the joy in letting go, in not counting almonds, or not doing paleo, in looking at a menu and instinctually questioning what they want. Dining out as a woman who once couldn’t is revolutionarily luxurious (and this luxury compounds the more we consider intersectionality and other complex, historical restaurant rules — though perhaps that’s the topic of another post). As women, we’re no longer relegated to Ice Cream Saloons after a day of shopping. We can dine during prime hours. We can drink at the bar (even in Kentucky!). We can linger as long as we want, gossip to our heart's content. Order oysters, and ice cream, and salad, and steaks, lamb chops, pasta with thick, creamy sauce…
And so, if you consider the context, if you consider all that’s at stake, then there’s something beautiful lurking in this Almond Daughter revolution. Something more than just satirical TikToks and the shock over Ms. Paltrow’s archaic and austere eating regimen. Because just as Almond Mom tried to convert Almond Daughter into alienation from her own hunger, there could be a near future where Almond Daughter converts Almond Mom into nourishment and satisfaction and joy. Sounds pretty liberating, right? So if you’re an Almond Daughter, take your Mother out to dinner. And if you’re an Almond Mother, accept your daughter’s invitation, and order the first thing on the menu you really, truly feel like you want.