Sexism in the culinary world

This topic was brought up in a conversation i was having with a friend of mine who is a male chef. We discussed it at length and it was amazing to hear how many of his favourite and popular dishes he makes came from maternal figures in his life.

The culinary industry is very much dominated by men. What we have seen throughout history is that women are expected to undertake all the cooking at home (unpaid labour) while cooking in exchange for money, was for men. In our society, when someone is being paid money in exchange for a skillset, it creates social significance and capital around that skillset.

The rise of culinary significance is correlated to the rise in public restaurant dining. In this space, women were rarely hired as chefs back in the day. To demonstrate this further i want to share some statistics about women in the culinary space. Only 17% of the the chefs in the UK are women, this percentage drops over half when we account for women who hold leadership positions or own restaurants. Lower income and lower “status” positions (school canteens, food preparation etc) in the food/culinary space

Sexism in the culinary space runs rampant. One of the most acclaimed chefs in the world Heston Blumenthal stated that there are vert real reasons why women aren’t as promindate in the culinary world saying that women “biological clocks” and their lack of strength resulting in women not being able to lift heavy pots as the reason why women don’t seem to get the same recognition. What we definitely can confirm is that Heston is a fucking idiot. But something that i often think about is that Hestons comments are far from the only sexist things male chefs have said in the media. If they feel comfortable enough to say these things to the public, what is happening behind closed doors, in the kitchen.

Culture isn’t static—it’s ever-evolving—and the recipes that we have come to think of as “traditional” were once inventions and innovations. In many countries, there are clear regional differences with how certain meals are cooked. Meals are adapted according to the available produce, the climate and accessibility. Entire cuisines and foodways exist because of their cooking. The women that came before us are responsible for all of the most impressive foods and recipes throughout history. Grandmothers and all our foremothers were responsible for feeding their communities and did so with invention, skill and technique. 

I find it interesting that we don’t find feeding our community and family to be as valuable as being a chef. It smells like capitalism for me. As i mentioned before, when there is a skillset that is being used in exchange for money, social capital is also rewarded. It is feeding into a system that centres profit as the most important and celebrated thing. Creating a new system starts by understanding how our subconscious beliefs have fed into a system that marginalises others. I certainly don’t have the answer to this problem but what i would love to see is male chefs speaking up about all the ways women have influenced their art, intentionally place women in leadership positions, and start unpacking their sexist beliefs so women can enter these spaces safely. There is something to be said about whether commercial kitchens are a safe place for anyone really. They are notorious for being abusive and so creating a safer environment for everyone involved should be the absolute bare minimum.

If you would like to explore some of the ways in which food and sexism are linked then check out Messy Health’s FREE class all about it! Click here to watch the 30 minute class.

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Food justice 101

Neurodiversity and Intuitive eating

Sex positivity 101

Binge eating 101

Emotional eating 101

Gut health/ Mental health link

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