This chapter explores the relationship between domesticity, femininity and feminism in contemporary popular food culture through an analysis of the infl uential fi gure of Nigella Lawson, celebrity food writer and media personality.1 Lawson’s books-especially her early publications How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food (1998) and How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking (2001)—and her several television series emphasize cooking and eating as sites of pleasure for women. This pleasure is both authentic-a reclaiming of the domestic sphere from which, according to the preface of How to Be a Domestic Goddess, “many of us have become alienated” (2001, vii)—but also ironic, self-consciously reworking a mid-twentieth-century ideology of domestic femininity. For Lawson, cooking and especially baking facilitate access to a fantasy of femininity that, instead of dooming women to lives of “domestic drudgery”, enables the performance of a “weekend alter ego winning adoring glances and endless approbation from anyone who has the good fortune to eat in her kitchen”—“a cross between Sophia Loren and Debbie Reynolds in pink cashmere cardigan and fetching gingham apron” (2001 vii).2 Read without irony, this statement might suggest an image of prefeminist subservience, but as this chapter argues, Lawson’s popularity stems not (or not only) from nostalgia, but from a self-possessed and intentional form of ironic distance. Using the subtextual operation of irony-where what is said differs from what is meant, and meanings are multiple and ambiguous-Lawson both claims and reworks her position as an object of desire, or, in Walter Benjamin’s terms, “saleswoman and wares in one” (157). One might look to her chocolate effi gy, displayed in the windows of Selfridges in the 2003 Christmas season, as a nearly perfect metaphor for Benjamin’s expression.3 It also raises the question of why anyone would

want to consume such a thing-and indeed, what it might mean to agree to such a mode of self-representation. However, as I will suggest, since all of Lawson’s actions are infl ected with both sincerity and irony, the gesture provokes humour, not revulsion. By contrast, what would one make of a chocolate effi gy of Martha Stewart in the Macy’s holiday windows?