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Column Fri Nov 08 2013

Culinary Gender Inequality IS a Media Concern

time cover.jpgThe Nov. 18 issue of Time features the "Gods of Food," 13 culinary greats with significant influence in the food industry. No female chefs were deemed "gods," though two pastry females were bestowed one-sentence mentions in a sidebar. In an Eater interview, section editor Howard Chua-Eoan explains that rather than filling a quota of female chefs, they chose individuals based on reputation and influence. "There was no attempt to exclude women...we just went with the basic realities of what was going on and who was being talked about," Chua-Eoan says. When asked why he didn't include any female chefs among the Gods of Food, he stated that although he considered it, "none of them have a restaurant that we believe matches the breadth and size and basically empire of some of these men that we picked...The female chef is a relatively recent phenomenon, except for Alice [Waters] who has been around for a long time."

While many have condemned Chua-Eoan as a misogynistic asshole, I don't think he's sexist as so much apathetic to gender inequality. After all, the list actually does reflect the "very harsh reality of the current chefs' world."

Head chefs are stereotypically male while women often remain pastry chefs or sous chefs. In professional restaurant kitchens, many women adopt "masculine" characteristics (e.g. short hair, no makeup, tattoos, cursing) as if to legitimize their culinary abilities. On food shows, male hosts tend to focus on professional or competitive cooking while female hosts dominate domestic cooking shows. A study by Deborah Harris and Patti Giuffre from Texas State University analyzed hundreds of high-end restaurant reviews and chef profiles in prestigious food magazines and newspapers (e.g., Food & Wine, NYT). They found that successful men were frequently credited for their intellectual and technical expertise, labeled as rule-breakers, and capable of building a massive empire of cookbooks and media appearances. Conversely, women were commended for their assiduousness, traditionalism, and desire to feed people over making money and building prestige.

Time-Chef-Family-Tree.jpg
Existent in nearly every industry, sexism isn't unique to the culinary world. In the medical profession, surgeons are typically male while females are usually pediatricians or nurses. In business, women currently constitute 4.2% of both the Fortune 500 CEO and Fortune 1000 CEO lists. In academics, few females pursue careers in science and engineering, preferring "soft science" or the liberal arts. The continued existence of gender inequality stems from a horrifically-complex amalgam of economic, political, and social influences, and adding race and SES into the mix only further complicates the matter.

I could give zero shits if Chua-Eoan doesn't personally care about gender inequality because I understand that not everyone concerns themselves with societal issues. It's confusing, it's tiring, and sometimes, it's fruitless. However, to state that the media isn't responsible for advocating against gender inequality is utterly absurd. "But bring the subject [gender inequality] up? I think we need someone to tell us, someone there who has an opinion that we can then reflect," he says. First, plenty of people have opinions, my friend -- both men and women. And second, when has the media ever been a static reflection of the world's happenings? The media is not simply a mirror -- it is society's most influential institution, capable of building and destroying everything from individual reputations to countries.

In Gastronomica, Charlotte Druckman writes that although female chefs "have embraced their equal value and have faced the facts of their situation," they still don't hold equal status because the media, culinary institutions, and even male peers treat and portray their abilities differently. Yet these are the very same institutions with the most "agency and clout" to instigate change. Druckman writes, "Better to try than do nothing. It's already 2010. The status quo is unacceptable." It's almost 2014 -- has anything changed?

 
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Andrew Huff / November 10, 2013 4:50 PM

Grub Street put together a pretty good list of "Godesses of Food" who could/should have been on Time's list.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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