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More Words on Cooking

A while back, I saw this tweet questioning why professional cooking is a male dominated field when cooking is considered to be women's work in the private sphere of life. At this I went back to read Yimika's feature and found that she agreed, likening being a female chef to "finding a unicorn". For some reason this really surprised me so I decided to dig a little deeper. Most of us are aware of the pressures put on women to be able to cook and the expectation that we cook for our husbands and families, so why is it that this unpaid responsibility for women gets to be a money-making 'passion' for men?

In culinary school there are no shortages of female chefs, with the ratio of girls to boys being relatively equal, however in April last year it was estimated that only 18.5% of professional chefs are women. Of the 172 Michelin starred restaurants worldwide only 10 are headed by female chefs. As is the way of the world, the culinary profession is dominated by white males, with other 'minority' demographics having to work harder and longer to achieve the same status.

Unsurprisingly, alongside the constraint, female chefs are also victim to salary discrepancies. Women and minorities who have put in decades of work can earn up to $3 to $4 dollars less than white males freshers in the industry. That is a potential gap of over $8,000 dollars a year based on nothing but discrimination. Anne Taylor, who discovered this during her time in the food industry, revealed that upon her promotion the man hired to assist her actually earned more than she did. Taylor also discloses that discrimination is felt even more forcefully by workers of 'minority' races or ethnicities, especially if English is their second language.

Within the industry, only 10% of the 45% of women hold top ranking positions with the rest congregating in public retail sectors of the cooking industry, such as education or catering. Even when women do venture into the restaurant business, their businesses tend to be "cuisine bourgeoise", a more home-style restaurant, whilst fine-dining restaurants are distinctly male. So the men enjoy the glamour whilst their loving mothers, to whom they attribute their cooking skills, are stuck slaving away in the sweaty kitchen - bang on stereotype.

Of course, there are arguments that do explain the gendered division of food things. On the topic of stereotypes, in the early years of the women's movements, women actively avoided the kitchen so as not to play into what was expected of them. This might explain why historically there have been fewer women in professional kitchens than men, but doesn't do much to explain why women who have entered into the profession are marginalised.

Another explanation (excuse) comes from the fact that working in a restaurant is a high risk job, there are long hours, heavy machinery, few rewards and (apparently) typically a rather uninspiring pay-cheque. As women tend not to want to sacrifice their lives for a professional career in the kitchen they gravitate toward a role that means they maintain their general security and their passion for cooking. I guess that equals catering.

Rachel Feit, conducting research on sexism in the food industry, initially found that there was no consensus on sexism in the industry - a clear example of how differently discrimination is felt. The Female chefs she interviewed acknowledged the fact that women must work hard to gain the respect of their male colleagues, however their responses were surprising to Feit and myself. Whilst some argue that female chefs get very little recognition, Feit's research accredits that to women being far less attention seeking than men.

Personally, I think it's complacency that led these women in high ranking positions to ignore the discrimination that has been pointed out from within and beyond the industry. I do believe that for them their sex isn't limiting but there are subtle ways that misogynistic practices are sustained that aren't necessarily limiting but dangerous all the same. For example, Mary Berry still has the maternal home-cook stigma around her, as her Victorian sponge cake garners more attention and respect that her culinary education at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Or the way male chefs are given room to say "there are a huge number of women who know how to mix cocktails, but can't cook to save their lives" (Gordon Ramsey in 2005). Indeed, these aren't an active stifling of the growth of female chefs, but we must not dismiss them as inconsequential, we must #staywoke to these understated forms of sexism.

I began by asking why cooking was a woman's job until it is a glamorous profession - then it's a man's world - but this article mostly focused on bringing to light the discrimination against women in the food industry, so I will finally answer the question: patriarchy. The world seem to be (well is) sooo biased against women that sexism is apparent in every walk of life. I love that this blog allows me to explore and expose to you the ubiquitous nature of prejudice and I hope that it inspires you to take action against the patriarchy, in any way you can.



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