Male Food Writers Promoting Male Chefs

Nov 192013
 

Time-Gods-Of FoodIf you’ve read the news on who’s a top US chef, they are all men, according to a male food editor and a male restaurant critic.

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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  54 Responses to “Male Food Writers Promoting Male Chefs”

  1. I enjoy Saturday kitchen with James Martin and his male buddies – and have often wondered when a female chef will make an appearance. Granted, in his absence one did step in but that was an exception.
    I find the definition of chef interesting here – it seems to be less about the food and more about empire building! Was Elizabeth David not a chef then? Delia?
    Who is to say that being a pastry chef or a food writer is less demanding – food writing in particular brings its own pressures with deadlines, agents, word counts, not to mention critical readers to deal with. Flexibility does not mean less demanding and many women work late into the night combining work and family responsibilities.
    And what of the very many women who head up cafes, pop up restaurants, school canteens (they’re not all bad!), catering businesses, bakeries? Or is feeding people only worthy of mention if those we cook for are rich enough to afford a three course dinner somewhere with the paparazzi lurking outside?!

    • Great points, Linda. Sadly, the women who head cafes, catering, canteens are not GODS in the sense that these three guys are. So perhaps it’s all about controlling your own spin. Are women terrible promoters?

      Re who is a chef, David Chang is now a businessman with restaurants, a magazine, etc. I’m not sure he’s in the kitchen any more than Alice Waters, who was mentioned in passing. This Alex guy, I had never heard of him until I watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Peruvian cooking. Talk about a boy’s club member…

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, this is something I feel strongly about after a lifetime of cooking for family and to make a living. You make such a good point about business people with restaurants and magazines. Many have cookware ranges, endless PR appearances, an empire indeed but much of it outside the kitchen. If that makes you a chef then I am Kylie Minogue on the basis I sing while I bake!

  3. What an ego-bloating headline. I can’t speak for anyone but myself and those close to me, obviously, but none of these guys have had the tiniest influence on the way (or what) I eat or those around me. I’m too disgusted by this to generate useful conversation about it. I will listen to what others say instead, I know it will be interesting.

    • Hmm. You must have an opinion. But then I didn’t voice mine, so I guess we’re even. I think there would be an incremental gain in coverage of women if more women writers were in charge. Then maybe after 20 years of being the norm, coverage would increase. These things take time.

  4. These things do take time, that’s true. What I think is that it may be true that there are, overall, fewer female chefs in famous restaurants but this article didn’t even try and I am inclined to think that a woman writing it would have found an influential female chef to feature with the male chefs.

    I was trying to sort out my opinion and having trouble because my emotional reaction to this article was so strong. The main thing that bothers me is not really that it’s all male chefs in this feature, it’s the premise that these chefs are the gods of food and have a huge influence over what we’re all eating. I think that’s rubbish. I think chefs and cooks with television shows, blogs, and cookbooks are way more influential over what most people eat.

    • I hope you’re right about what a woman writer would do. But she may also decide not to include someone just because she was female, or get pressure to take her out because she is not as “famous” as the rest.

      I think I’m with you. Most Americans have not heard of these three chefs. But I bet they’ve heard of Alice Waters!

  5. I don’t think I meant “famous” necessarily, I meant influential.

  6. This is a really important post. I think the issue applies across so many fields. In medicine (my day job aside from my food blog) women are over 50% of graduates but less than 10% of professors. Women are not good at promoting themselves, nor do they network in the same way. It is a boy’s club in many professions but things will change and hopefully those women that do make it will pull up and inspire those struggling through family rearing and career to show that it can be possible.

    • True, this dilemma applies in many other fields, ex. the eternal question “Why are there no great women artists?” Because only men are asking that question! Maybe I should write more posts about networking and promotion. You’ve given me an idea.

  7. Women do it all. We work. We stay home. We cook. We clean. We take care of the family. My husband likes to tell me that men are not wired this way. It is true. So, maybe I am not a culinary trained chef. Maybe I do not have a restaurant. But, I have cooked and cleaned and fed up to 100 people in one night, without a sous chef, and making everything from appetizers to desserts from scratch. I’ve cooked and played hostess for three pregnancies. Don’t tell me women aren’t up to the physical demands.The male chefs that I have met and have heard speak have all been very egotistical. But, I have to say, being a woman, wife and mom, that it is empowering for me to tell them these male chefs, “Just shut up and prepare my meal, thank you.”

    • Hah! It does come down to that, doesn’t it? Those chefs have to serve you, whereas your job is often to serve others. Although I’m not sure that they think it is their job, compared to their culinary genious.

  8. Dianne, you are spot on with your comment that while most of America (including me) will not have heard of these chefs, they will have heard of Alice Waters. Thanks for sharing the links to those excellent responses, though no doubt they will be written off by some (males) as female vitriol and whining.

    • Thanks Domenica. Fortunately most of my readers are female, so we can “whine” all we want, right here. Maybe Time was trying to be controversial with those choices: An Asian American, a Scandinavian, and a Peruvian. It’s not what people would expect, and they got a ton of coverage for their choices. We did expect white men, though, and we got two, so cheers for David Chang.

  9. Hi Dianne, great follow-up to the hullabaloo.

    I was reading the Eater post, “Airing your Grievances” where food pros anonymously talk about things that drive them batty. One of the posts went like this:

    “I hate the chefbro club. It’s both intimidating and off-putting. These guys are all really nice (for the most part) but there’s something sort of icky about how publicly their high-profile friendships play out, whether it’s on Twitter or through collaborative dinners or blurbing one another’s cookbooks. I know it comes from an authentic place of genuinely liking and supporting each other, but nevertheless it feels a little Kim-Kanye, a little manipulative of the media coverage. It also makes it hard for me to eat at one of their restaurants without feeling like I’m participating in the performance.”

    If the “chefbro club” proliferates, and there is power there, women obviously will miss out on opportunities to advance their empires, if they want to have empires, that seems obvious. But I think this also shows that this pack mentality, where all the same boys get the same media hype, over and over, is pretty tight and exclusive, and even male chefs can feel left out.

    Ha ha…so maybe it’s just highschool all over again. :)

    Kim

    • Yes, there are several forces at work here, besides sexism — do women have packs as well? Not in the same way. I suspect our allegiances are to our family first. And as for high school, it’s always a popularity contest, isn’t it? We just have to get over ourselves and “lean in,” as Cheryl would say.

  10. If they are so influential, why do we need to “meet them?” Never heard of these guys and, frankly, am more influenced by the likes of T. Susan Chang, Tamar Adler and Elissa Altman. The chefs do not influence us. The brilliant writers do!

    • Great choices!

      Apparently we are not the cool people that Time magazine thinks are its readers. Maybe they’re trying for younger men. That would help explain things. They are also the ones advertising and movies are geared to. Our group has the money to afford those restaurants, but no one is targeting old broads.

  11. Dianne, what I found interesting and not mentioned here is the TIME cover in the US was of Chris Christie with the the headline, “The Elephant in the Room,” while the international coverage sported the cover shown on your post. The “Gods of Food” was a byline at the top of the US coverage.

    The media certainly has it role in this “high school popularity contest,” or “chefbro club,” However it is labeled, it smacks of sexism.

    I think the challenge for women is indeed one of self-promotion and marketing. Just yesterday, I send an “invite” to my Facebook friends to “like” my page, and I felt awkward doing it, despite my desire and need to grow my platform. However, face to face, I have no problems talking up and promoting my platform. Funny, behind a screen, I balk at promoting myself, right?

    Also, worth a mention…it is not just the media. In a the other aspects of the food industry, like distribution, many executives, top leaders and sales reps are predominately men. When I worked in the fish commodity business, a hugely male-dominated field, I wasn’t afraid of the work, time, and effort, but rather I had to contend with the high testosterone aspect of the daily job and frankly, unless you don’t want to succeed, you listen to a lot of this male locker-room mentality. Male chefs gobble this up, female chefs not so much.

    To answer your question. Yes, I believe if women writers were at the top, they would most definitely support and write about other women. We just go about it in a more sophisticated way.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for posting this compelling content.

    • I did not know that about the different covers. How fascinating. It makes sense too, given that people outside the US won’t know who Christie is, and the chefs make a very international cover (US, Scandinavia, Brazil).

      Writers in general are not good at promoting themselves, being somewhat introverted. And I think you’re right about women not being good at it either, so it’s a double whammy.

      Pretty much every business is dominated by men at the top, including ones that employ mostly women. So we have to figure out how to get ahead. My answer was to drop out and do my own thing. I’ve enjoyed getting away from all the ridiculous sexist stuff I had to put up with, but it still happens that when I compete with a guy for something, he usually gets it.

      Nice to have this vote of confidence that women would do the right thing, if given the opportunity.

  12. I just don’t appreciate that these “men” see women as not physically capable of grunt work. Errrrm don’t they realize how much grunt work women, especially working mothers (hats off to them!) and more so pregnant working mothers and even more so single pregnant working mothers, go through on a daily basis? I think it is really unfair that women is still treated as the “weaker” sex when in fact we work so much that we can still smile through it even if it hurts.

    • Okay, I get that. But I am not a mother and have never been pregnant, and I have been discriminated against as well. You don’t have to be much more than female, just as racism is based on being a certain color. In both cases, they represent the “other.”

  13. I’ve never heard of these three chefs. Have TV Show, will hit limelight doesn’t mean they will influence my food! Am I missing something?

    • They don’t have tv shows. But lots of other (male) chefs are imitating them because they think what they’re doing is cool. I wonder if women chefs are imitating them? Probably not.

  14. When I worked as a culinary guide/interpreter in Paris 20ish years ago, there were almost no women in any of the kitchens I visited (high end, most Michelin-starred) and very few in cooking school. I had one chef tell me he absolutely refused to have any women in his kitchen; he made an exception for one young woman because her father was a starred chef. Today, there are more and more women chefs and I have noticed here in Nantes which now has a tremendous restaurant scene (most of the young chefs opening restaurants have spent years in starred kitchens with the big names) that all the chefs with their own restaurants are male except one, but many of them have women in their kitchens. But… the one woman with a restaurant (high end) here in town told me that she is often ignored and feels like she has to fight for acceptance and respect among her peers and has often felt open disdain from the men in her own kitchen.

    Now, on one hand, what the food editor said about no women chefs having restaurants with the breadth, size, whatever equal to the men on their list can in fact be valid. But what Bauer says is inexcusable! It is like the clinic director who told my sister (who at the time was just out of medical school and interviewing for a job): that he never hired women because they just turned around and started having babies and then quit their jobs and careers.

    As for women writers choosing…. I don’t know if they would be more likely to select women chefs. I think some would and some would not. Many would be drawn more to fame than anything else, others would look at quality first. And would they choose in order to make a political point or would they choose objectively because they deserved to be on the list? There are so many factors that come into play when people are asked to judge and draw up a “best of” list.

    • That is a sad story, Jamie. I wonder if chefs and instructors are like this in every country, or is France the worst? I think not.

      Re choosing a restaurateur based on number of restaurants seems like a dumb idea. Surely there are chefs who own more restaurants than these guys.

      I’m with you. There are many factors that go into choosing — and since women often don’t get a level playing field they will not appear be at the same level as many male chefs. But “level” and “coolness” are not the only criteria.

      Hmm. This makes me think about Alice Waters. I wonder if her ascent would have been even more pronounced if she was a man?

  15. Thanks for this, Dianne. This certainly speaks to societal values and what our country’s trendsetters think is important. Traditionally, men have been “Chefs” while women have just been “cooks.” Men have always been able to work outside the home to make a career in food, but women chefs, no matter how successful, cannot shake the stereotype of the matronly provider.

    What constitutes a “food god”? (The term is problematic and, dare I say, a tad disgusting.) It is a measure of influence, of opportunity, of business savvy, more so than of actual food. Using those measures, because of the subordinate female position in society, women might never make lists like this. It takes a true trendsetter to promote someone with just as much promise, but lacking in opportunity.

    People who have not had their eyes opened to discrimination, or who have not been in the minority promoting social values (as is clearly the case with these male food writers) will be ignorant to promoting anything except the mainstream, the people who already have opportunity and influence. To women who have already realized that we do not have equal status in society, this is a slap in the face.

    • Well, this is an interesting point. Since most people think God is male, then women cannot be gods in their minds. Women are still primarily responsible for the house and the kids, so many high ranking women take the option drop out because they can’t do a good job with all three. We agree on the fact that there is no level playing field, on so many levels.

      I think the women who should have been on the list are used to being ignored. Fortunately for us, they’re stubborn as hell, and they believe in themselves.

  16. So we’re still the weaker sex hmm? How I wish we could change roles for one day. Men would simply not be able to manage the cumulative roles we play. I’m remembering the joke about ‘How many children would each family have if men were the ones to be pregnant and give birth? One. They would NEVER do that again. I am seriously aghast that someone would have the gall to spout that kind of rhetoric in this day and age. Well at least publicly!

    I’ve never been involved in the professional world of food preparation beyond blogging about what I cook at home so my observations are limited to what I have seen in the homes of friends and family over the years and I’ve always wondered this? Why are women the vast majority of cooks inside the home, even the first teacher many of these so-called geniuses had and yet once they step outside the home into the public arena of cooking they are not deemed as worthy. My life is filled with amazing cooks and seriously…not one of them is a man. Where does it transition that the talent seen so evidently in our moms and sisters and friends is not equally transcended once those women choose to make their personal passion a professional career?

    We’ve come a long way baby? I’m reminded once again that we really have not come all that far at all. We need a damn Girls Club!!

    • Yeah! Who’s in the girl’s club? That’s a good question.

      Regarding the work of our mothers and sisters, etc. they are not qualified to make the cover of Time magazine. Sorry. It’s not that they’re not doing good work. It’s just that many women do it, and therefore it is not special.

      And typically women provide the support system for men, by taking care of house and home in addition to their jobs. I don’t think there are too many women in the reverse situation.

  17. I really enjoyed Chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s response to the Time article, particularly this quote:

    “I wonder if there are male chefs who themselves feel debased and embarrassed by an industry that doesn’t acknowledge sufficiently the women they work with, appear at events with, exchange business savvy and woe with, drink drinks and talk cooking with late at night after work? I think I know some of them — have any written in to say so?”

    I’m embarrassed for the Time editor, who seems, well, confused and embarrassed. Also, didn’t he try to excuse leaving women out by suggesting they created their own unique path and, thus, didn’t fit in. Laughable.

    It’s also well-known that women have exceptional physical endurance, so let’s stop making feeble excuses for bias.

    Here’s a link to Chef Gabrielle’s full response for anyone interested:

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/11/11/why-do-female-chefs-get-overlooked/women-chefs-escape-the-leash-its-time-the-master-howled

    • What an excellent essay. I have a full girl crush on her now. Thanks for adding this to the conversation, Catherine.

  18. “Top” and “best” have ceased to really have any meaning to me when it’s so clear that they’re used subjectively. So my reaction to whomever those male editors chose consists of a shrug and a “meh.” As a consumer who’s aware of the biased views of those editors, “top” only relates to the “top” of the men’s field, not the top of the field as a whole.

    BTW: Bauer’s perspective is laughable. Not only does he assume men don’t want to be family-oriented, but he paints male chefs who might be fathers to be so egotistical that they’d choose to ignore their families to pursue something as fleeting as reputation.

    • Well, this is refreshing. I’m glad this story is meaningless to you. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone — men and women — said “meh.” Then their sexist decisions would have no power. Gabrielle Hamilton objected to having to be the barking dog in her essay, so maybe she felt the same way.

      • Just read her essay and maybe she did! As you say, viewpoints like Bauer’s–be they from men or women–only gain power when we respond in kind. I’d rather not give him and those who think like him the power of thinking they affect who I pay attention to. His list is just a reflection of his opinion, which we know is sexist. It isn’t “truth” and doesn’t have to be regarded as such by consumers.

        That said, it can’t be denied that many consumers follow his opinion. But by questioning it like you have, you make progress towards shaking them out of subconsciously complying.

        • Thanks, Christine. It is kind of suspicious if he can’t find a single rising star who’s female in the last 4 years.

  19. I loved Amanda Cohen’s response to this ridiculousness. The editor’s reasoning was so weak and so full of holes, you could strain pasta through it. From his whiney, grasping-at-straws reply, I’m not entirely sure that he believed it himself.

    This is just a continuation of how it’s always been in all facets of life: When women do it, it’s a lowly task; when men do it, it’s an art or a “profession.” In food, women traditionally have been “cooks,” while men have been “chefs.”

    I can’t believe he said that Alice Waters ALMOST made the list, and the reason she didn’t was because she remained local. What?! She completely changed the way we look at food and sources, and influenced at least 2 generations of chefs. Julia Child, anyone?

    If it’s true (which it’s not) that women don’t have a far-reaching influence, it’s because no one gives them any media attention or credit. All the attention goes to the boys. Women get the leftover scraps. So their businesses don’t do as well. So they don’t make as much money. So they don’t open up multiple establishments. So they don’t have PR firms doing all the promo work for them. Articles like the one in Time just perpetuate that.

    Food writers get the same treatment. Men have always been more respected as writers across the board. Earlier this year, University of Toronto professor David Gilmour gave this reason for not teaching women writers: He said that he’s “not interested in teaching books by women.. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers, go down the hall…What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys.” He did soften the blow by saying that he teaches one short story by Virginia Woolf, who is “the only writer that interests me as a woman writer.”

    See here for full story:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/25/david-gilmour-books-by-women-professor-authors-_n_3991142.html

    and

    http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/09/25/david-gilmour-does-not-love-female-writers-does-love-himself/

    • Yes, in some ways this whole thing is not news at all, but more of the same.

      I’ve written about male food writers being taken more seriously. This guy Gilmour should be ashamed of himself. I bet there were no repercussions, because the school is headed by men.

  20. I think there is a similar gender bias in blogging. From the amount of food blogs that are out there, the large majority (to me, particularly in Australia) seem to be written by women. The proportion of males that blog is far smaller, yet they probably have equal if not more reverence than a female blogger. So if you saw an article on the ‘Gods of Food Blogging’ you would probably also see a larger majority of men.

    There’s a confidence thing to this as much as bias. Often I think the male traits win out to help self promote and therefore the notion of influence or mastery of a subject wins out. At the recent Eat Drink Blog Conference in Perth, the majority of speakers were men (12 men and 3 women) who spoke to a largely female audience. Were they better at what they did, or just more confident to get up and talk about it?

    • Yes, I notice this too, Alison. Male bloggers are often speakers at conferences of mostly women, they are often selected for the few high-paying jobs, and they are often on “best of” lists. I belong to the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which is mostly women, and yet the president is often a man and men often run for their board of directors. As a result, men dominate the organization in an outsize way, given their percentage. What is that about? I suppose no one is stopping more women from applying for board positions, at least theoretically. Maybe they don’t care, they don’t have time, or they don’t understand why it’s important.

      Recently I was given a job because a man said no, so I was the second choice. And I’m teaching right now at a culinary school where students are half men and half women, and the men dominate the conversation. They’re definitely more confident about speaking up.

  21. I was watching Masterchef (UK) earlier this evening and all the contestants are male. (There was one woman contestant, but she was chucked out pretty quickly) The main judge is a well known chef (Michelle Roux Jr.) and his co-judge is a woman. Can’t remember her name (funny that). She is very masculine in her manner and quite brutal in her criticism .She knows her stuff, He is tough, but has a more nurturing approach. He’s a lot more famous then she is and he always does the proper cooking challenges whilst she gets the skills tests. She is the one who sorts out the men from the boys and puts them through their paces, but he’s the one they all look up to.

    • Funny how we sometimes take these things for granted until we look deeper at them. I would have taken it all at face value. I appreciate the chance to look at these situations more critically now.

  22. After reading Alison’s comment and yours, Dianne, about men being more confident to speak up, I wanted to add this article to the discussion. Harvard Business School recognized a number of years ago that the men in their classes were more vocal and thus tended to earn higher grades (just from virtue of being more visible). The school administration took some really fascinating measures to even the playing field, resulting in women earning higher grades than they had previously, across the board.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/education/harvard-case-study-gender-equity.html?_r=0

    • This is an excellent article and I remember reading it when it first came out. I’m going to put it to use, since I’m teaching all this week and next. Thanks Cristin.

  23. Alex Atala is brazilian. He has been very famous because in his Sao Paulo restaurant D.O.M. (considered one of the best 5 restaurants in the world for the last past years, according to different magazines and judges) he began to use amazonian natural products as ingredients. He discoverd new flavours and textures, all from nature. He is very humble and not considered himself as a god at all. He created a new and sofisticated brazilian cuisine. Now there are a lot of good brazilian chefs doing the same (including the great Roberta Sudbrack, in Rio de Janeiro) but he was the first.

    • Yes, I know about him because I watched an America television show where Anthony Boudain went to his restaurant and tasted his dishes. I was fascinated by the all the native ingredients he used, which I had never heard of. He seemed like a humble guy.

  24. Both articles are opinion pieces. The fact that gender was even discussed as an inclusion/exclusion factor suggests the narrow-mindedness and bias of the authors and editors. I have little, if any, regard for either publication. But, that’s just my opinion.

    • I like your opinion, Jackie. I’m not sure whether all the other hundreds of thousands of readers — particularly men — will come to the same conclusion.

  25. […] disliked Lucky Peach at first because of the overwhelming boy’s club atmosphere, but I do appreciate the irreverence, the new subjects, and the writing quality. So I was thrilled […]

  26. Fascinating article. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, having worked in male-dominated corporate America for years. I wouldn’t have expected to find the same issues with cookbook writing and chefs, and yet the issue of women receiving proper recognition is everywhere. Interestingly, I was recently on a panel with two other (female) cookbook authors. When asked who our cookbook idols were, all but one (of about a dozen mentioned) were women. One of my co-panelists spoke up and noted that we hadn’t mentioned enough men.

    • You hadn’t mentioned enough men! That’s a good one, Colette. Not that there aren’t dozens to be mentioned, but usually they get the bulk of the accolades anyway.

  27. […] set of biases (a bit perplexed by the recent Time Magazine article, including Redzepi praising the “gods of food” with no women included or the Instagram comment to my mobile snapshot of the marquee with […]

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