A Revolutionary Kitchen: The Italian Females Cooking Their Way Out Of Domestic Abuse
After suffering nearly two decades of domestic abuse, Nicoletta Cosentino found the strength to walk away. She speaks to Marianna Cerini about her social enterprise Female Cook Fighters, which helps survivors of domestic abuse find financial independence and self-worth
If Nicoletta Cosentino had to describe herself in one word, she’d choose “tenacious”. “I think it’s what summarises me best,” she tells me over the phone from Palermo, Sicily, where she lives. “Although it took me a while to realise that about myself.”
Eighteen years to be exact – the length of the abusive relationship she was in. “It was a psychological kind of abuse, which meant that for the longest time I didn’t understand it wasn’t normal,” she says candidly. “Because of the constant denigration I was put through, what I thought was wrong was me. When someone tells you that you’re not good enough or deserving enough on a daily basis, it gets inside your head. You start believing it.”
Until one day – with the help of local centre Le Onde, which works with female victims of domestic abuse in Palermo – she stopped. “As soon as I became aware of the violence I had suffered, I felt the need to talk about it with other women and to lend a hand to anyone else who might be in a similar situation,” she says. “I wanted them to know they were not alone.”
Cuoche Combattenti (which translates to Female Cook Fighters), a social enterprise Cosentino launched in 2019, is the result of that desire to help.
Spanning a workshop and training programme, it brings together survivors of domestic abuse and gives them the means to be financially independent by teaching them to make food – various jams, preserves and sauces, which are then sold to the public. Besides being handmade, each product carries messages against domestic violence on its packaging: ‘You’re worth it, and you can be free’, ‘Those who love you want you to be happy’ and ‘There is always a way out’.
“We think of them as mantras and reminders of our worth,” Cosentino says. “I came up with the first ones even before founding Cuoche Combattenti. They just poured out of me. I like to say they’re universal truths all women should hear.”
That’s especially the case for Italy, where, according to ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics), 31.5% of women have experienced some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, and 29.9% have been psychologically abused (that figures rises to 35% for women aged 16 to 24). Since the start of the year, there have been 53 femicides in the country: that’s one every three days.
For many of the women that train with Cuoche Combattenti, the experience is transformative. “It’s an opportunity to start over, but also to learn a completely new set of skills, and realise they can do it on their own,” Cosentino says. “It gives them a newfound dignity.”
The project’s logo, a raised fist proudly holding a rolling pin, has that same intent: “it signifies that we’re not victims, but fighters,” she says. And that they’re not afraid to turn the kitchen – a place women have been historically relegated to – into an outpost against violence and abuse.
Looking ahead, Cosentino hopes to see more Cuoche Combattenti come together across Italy and make it an instrument of economic independence and self-determination for whoever might need it.
“The best part of the work I do is the connection I forge with the women I come into contact with,” she says. “Together we can overcome anything – and learn to love ourselves again. That’s the most important thing.”
Marianna Cerini is a freelance journalist writing about cultural trends, travel, fashion and the arts and has been published in Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, CNN Style and Vogue Italia