Gastronomy is feminine: "We do not need quotas, we must normalize the role of women to end the discourse of equality"


The third edition of ‘Gastronomy is female’ has focused on the role of women in the gastronomic story, understood in its broadest sense. Because gastronomy is part of the Spanish cultural identity and also a basic pillar of its economy, and thousands of women from all walks of life contribute to it, from chefs and sommeliers to workers in communication, marketing, tourism, agriculture or industry.

Organized by Women in Equality and the Federation of Associations of Cooks and Bakers of Spain (Facyre), the meeting has been conceived as a sharing of ideas and knowledge, giving voice and visibility to women in a world in which traditionally always it has remained in the background. The situation is changing, but how is female empowerment reflected in gastronomy? What are the keys to achieving real equality?

The kitchen at home has always been linked to the figure of the woman, and even today it is difficult to overcome that cliché. If women have been the ones who have carried on their shoulders the food of the family and also of the people in the most difficult times, taking pots from where there was nothing, why in the history of gastronomy do only male protagonists reach us?

Betting on equality policies is investing in the welfare state

It is irremediable to think of the sacrosanct Michelin Guide and the small number of female figures who appear leading restaurants. The landscape is changing little by little, but there is still a gap in terms of equality and many challenges to overcome. The numbers are not deceiving, men continue to grab headlines, awards, stars and media recognition, while the woman who succeeds in cooking is still seen as an anecdote.

With this approach, this third edition of a forum has started that every time seeks to expand female voices to reflect on the entire discourse of gastronomy, understood as a global phenomenon. Carmen Fúnez, president of Women in Equality, highlighted the importance of the gastronomic sector in our country, as past, present and future, a future that will be unviable without investing in equality policies.

There are many women who promote the hotel industry, tourism, agriculture, fishing or the food industry; and only in an egalitarian environment can we advance towards a competent future that guarantees the welfare state. And for this, the presence and professionalization of women must be normalized in all areas.

No quotas or positive discrimination: breaking with inherited tradition

Sara Fort (La Borda del Mentidero), Yolanda León (Cocinandos restaurant), Teresa Gutiérrez (Azafrán restaurant), María Salinas (María Salinas restaurant) and Cristina de la Calle (Etxeko restaurant)

In the current social context, it is common for successful women to be asked why they are still the exception. It is difficult to explain why there are still so few Michelin stars with female names, recognizes Teresa Gutiérrez, chef and owner of the Azafrán de Villarrobledo restaurant. The answer may be, in part, in the past, "before the woman was left behind in everything", everyone expected that they would be in charge of cooking, collecting and cleaning.

Teresa Gutiérrez, Azafrán restaurant in Villarrobledo

Yolanda León, chef and co-owner of Cocinandos, a restaurant in León with which she and her husband Juanjo Pérez have achieved a Michelin star, differs a bit. "It is not so much a problem of tradition but of the education that we have been given as a woman and family obligations." Conciliation is the key, the support of the couple and the family, not assuming that a woman is first mother or wife.

"We can be there because we are worth it, we do not need quotas"

When mentioning parity quotas or affirmative action policies, the chefs are pretty clear: they only help to exclude even more. Cristina de la Calle, sommelier at the Etxeko restaurant in Madrid, argues that women are well prepared to assume positions of responsibility - leading a company does not differ much from running a home - but must dare to take the step.

These ideas coincide with María Salinas, chef and owner of the homonymous restaurant in Palma de Mallorca, which she runs with her daughter. Important progress has been made but "there is still much to do". However, Salinas believes that the objective should be to break with the discourses of equality, not to separate or discriminate. Only when the role of women is fully normalized, will we have achieved that equality.

Yolanda León and Juanjo Pérez, from the Cocinandos de León restaurant

To achieve this normalization, says de la Calle, it is also essential to bet on professionalism that empowers women with all the necessary tools to assert themselves. "We must demand from the sector professionals trained in hospitality schools with approved degrees that provide that necessary visibility".

And generational renewal will also be key. Only through an education that normalizes and assumes equality can we overcome the gender gap.

Female voices find new avenues of communication

The world of professional cooking is just one piece of all the machinery that shapes the gastronomic sector in our country. The arrival of the internet and the emergence of social networks have opened new avenues for communication, a democratization that women have taken advantage of.

María Llanos and Mapi Hermida with the presenter Mónica Martínez

The role of gastronomic criticism does not fall only on the five male names of always; Digital media, blogs and social networks have given the opportunity to new voices, many of them female, to participate in the story and offer their point of view, sharing experiences and knowledge. This is how Mapi Hermida, communication director and journalist, sees it, who believes that women "in networks we take more voice and initiative, we interact more."

Our colleague María Llanos, Editorial Director of Directo al Paladar, with a long experience in communication in the sector, highlights that women have thus found a place in the gastronomic scene, achieving alternative visibility, seeking their own ways of expression. In social networks such as Instagram, there seems to be a greater presence of women who also connect more with the visual aspect, taking much more care of aesthetics.

Digital media have democratized voices in gastronomy

In this way, the new media do seem to be giving women that visibility that costs more in professional haute cuisine. And the role of television? In addition to having turned the kitchen into a popular phenomenon, the chains try to take care of parity in a certain way, although this female presence "is not proportional, it does not reflect daily reality," says Llanos.

And it precisely concludes that the media, traditional or digital, have a responsibility to highlight the presence of women and attract the attention of the public. Communication professionals should assume quotas to pay the same attention to men and women.

"We have to be vigilant and tell all kinds of stories that deserve to be told, the great stories and the small intra-stories, whether they are starring famous chefs or anonymous women."

Photos | Unsplash Saffron Restaurant

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