Robyn Metcalfe's brainchild, The Food Lab, hosted a "Women and Food Symposium" (back on January 18), exploring the role and voice of women in today's food culture--with Addie Broyles (@relishaustin & @feministkitchen & @broylesa) introducing the day and framing the issues evocatively along with Robyn.
(Robyn and the first panel (not necessarily listed in order of appearance): Melanie Haupt (food writer; author, Historic Austin Restaurants); Toni Tipton-Martin (The SANDE Youth Project; author, The Jemima Code); Meghan McCarron (Editor, Eater Austin); Jessica Elizarras (Food and Nightlife Editor, San Antonio Current); Kim Voss (Journalism Professor, Univ. Central Florida, author, The Food Section (on the TV screen off to the side, via video)).
Food culture, as I am calling it to describe the day, comprises everything from new social media affecting the reporting of food ("Writing About Food in the Age of New Media), women of color in the "foodie" world, the co-opting of local, community foodstuffs for global mass marketing (Pioneer Woman), "Peace through Pie" (thanks to author Toni Tipton-Martin, @thejemimacode), to entrepreneurship in the food space ("Making a Living at Food" featuring food editors/journalists (Virginia Wood, Austin Chronicle; Julia Moskin, NY Times) and chef owners telling their stories (Sonya Coté, Sharon Mays)). And the day closed with what may have been the best panel of the day: "Gender in Cookbooks," featuring spunky Laura Shapiro, culinary historian and author of, among other things, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. I should have brought the book along and had her sign it, as Kate Payne (The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking) was smart enough to do.
You could not get closer to what makes my psyche tick than this combination: Literary theory (light version), social anthropology/social constructs, history, business creation -- superimposed onto the food culture of today, a culture that both annoys me (elitist, pretentious (I may be guilty of same just by thinking that), overdone) and delights me (notions of community, origins of nostalgia, the profoud satisfaction and magic of simple fresh food and wine with good friends).
The day had a good reference point: the recent Time magazine cover "The Gods of Food" and accompanying article, in which not a single female appeared in their "tree" of influential chefs. Eater posted this article by Dirt Candy's Amanda Cohen, who interviewed the editor about what ON EARTH they were thinking. An excerpt from the EATER article, which is attached at the previous link:
Some people have a problem that the centerpiece of the TIME article, a family tree of chef influences, doesn't include any women. Duh. How stupid is everyone? As Mr. Chua-Eoan says of the magical chart, which was put together by Aaron Arizpe:
"It's all men because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone — if not men, themselves actually — to sort of take care of each other."
So see, women don't take care of themselves or shave their legs enough or something, and they don't have men doing it for them, so they're not on the chart. As Chua-Eoan continues: "It's unfortunate, the women who are there are very good, but very few of them actually benefited from the boys club, as you can see from the chart."
Which is a chart of the boys club.
A counterbalance is found in the recently article by the New York Times, by the same Julia Moskin who participated in The Women and Food Symposium (by video).
The upside: we are talking with our outside voices about the issue of exclusion and getting enraged about it. At least we (women) have some say in the matter, and access to media outlets--and powerfully influential ones--to get a different view out there: witness Julia Moskin at the New York Times and Amanda Cohen via Eater.
More from Amanda because she just so owns her anger about the whole system. She does not use the term "unrecognized privilege" to speak of the boy's club (you can't recognize it when you're in it), but its spirit is there:
And let's give him a pass on comments like how his article:
"…reflects one very harsh reality of the current chefs' world, which unfortunately has been true for years: it's still a boys club."
Actually, no. I've never found restaurants or the world of chefs to be a boys club. I've worked with and for lots of women, lots of female chefs run restaurants across the country, and heck, there's even a lady chef running the White House kitchen. Also female chefs like Dione Lucas, Madeleine Kamman, Josefina Velazquez de Leon, and Julia Child were some of the earliest and most famous chefs to popularize cooking by teaching and appearing on television and radio. On top of that, I've never found male chefs anything but awesome and supportive, and if they have a boys club they must be keeping it very secret. But Mr. Chua-Eoan says it's a boys club, and so it's a boys club.
She inspired some debate, to put it mildly. Some commenters to that article said the chart in the Time article was right on, and no chef of the female persuasion did belong there as an influential force. Well, ok (but not even Alice Waters?).
As the food culture evolves into an ever more massive revenue-generating industry, it is no surprise that the same theme of gender disparity is resounding in the food world, like it is in the tech world, and like it has been for decades in other professions (accounting, law, academia). (See, e.g., this article in Forbes for that problem in tech.) But thank you, The Food Lab, for getting more of us thinking about the issue again -- and caring about it. Remind me to get my Eden East reservation in to support Sonya's local endeavors.