Two features stirred the wrath of many: a cover story on “The Gods of Food” in Time magazine; and a list of Rising Stars from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Eater interviewed the Time magazine food editor about why female chefs did not appear, and here is his reply:
“We discussed that for a while, we actually thought about it. We wanted to name a couple. Another reality: 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. They have the reputation and all that and it’s an unfortunate thing. The female chef is a relatively recent phenomenon, except for Alice who has been around for a long time. None of them have the recent breadth that these guys have.”
Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer offered this defense of his choices in a follow-up piece (in 2011, the first time he chose only male chefs — and this is his 4th year running), saying his story had generated criticism for a month:
“I’ve talked to working chefs and they point to many factors: being a chef is hard physical work, and not every woman is up for that. Hours are long and work is mostly at night; it can be a problem if you want to raise children. It might seem sexist, and it probably is, but many women still want to take care of their children themselves, which means they need a less demanding career. Being a pastry chef, cookbook writer or using food skills in a related field such as sales, is much more conducive to starting a family.”
We could debate the merits of these arguments, but many have done so already. Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy wrote an excellent response. Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl chimed in about gender stereotypes. Sarah Henry, in Edible East Bay, compiled her own list of accomplished women chefs as a response to the Chronicle, which suddenly featured female chefs across the Bay, in a piece written by a woman. Lesley Balla at Zagat did a slide show on 17 Top Women Chefs Around LA. And CNN’s Kat Kinsman generated a #ladychefgate hashtag on Twitter so we could follow any breaking news.
I’m pleased by the outrage, but this kind of boy’s club behavior and devotion to celebrity is not new. Women rarely get a level playing field, and even when they excel, their accomplishments are diminished. Men are still at the top in every field, including food writing, even though our field is mostly women.
So here’s a question to ponder: If women food writers were suddenly at the top, making decisions about whom to feature, would they feature other women? Or is the lure of celebrity and testosterone part of our culture, and just as alluring for women writers as it is for men?
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