These days, we tend to take it for granted that women are more or less welcomed at the top levels of all industries. But the truth? It’s still really difficult to get in, and get ahead, and two industries where that’s especially true–but increasingly less so–are food and wine. Why do food and wine pose so many barriers to women? It’s funny, in a way, given that women are traditionally supposed to be domestic goddesses, slaving away in the kitchen for hours to feed the family or host a dinner party. In the professional realm, however, men have ruled kitchens, where they often hold court through aggression and short tempers (though of course there are exceptions), and they have dominated wine cellars and professional wine accreditation organizations. As to the latter, I can’t say I totally understand why the wine industry has long been an old boys’ club, but I suspect it has something to do with normative ideas of masculinity that are wrapped up in competitiveness; after all, being a Master Somm is about being the most knowledgeable about everything. (Of the 140 Master Somms in the world, 21 are women.)
Food & Wine has just put out an issue focused on the women who have made names for themselves in these respective industries, and I have yet to get my hands on it but there’s some interesting buzz online. It seems that media and service industry people have been waiting for something like this to come along. And it’s unquestionably due because I can think, off the top of my head, of at least six well-known and influential female wine directors, somms, and chefs (in the U.S., that is; when I was in France I noticed an extreme dearth of well-known female chefs).
On Twitter, F&W is asking people to use the hashtag #FOODWOMENWINE alongside suggestions of females kicking-ass in wine and food who the magazine should profile. I gave a shoutout to Lee Campbell, the wine director at Reynard (and other Tarlow restaurants) who sparked my initial interest in natural and artisanal wine (although perhaps she’s already in the mag! I’d be surprised if not). I also thought of Gabrielle Hamilton, but then it occurred to me that she has been uneasy with being identified as a female chef, as a marker of professional identity. Which is totally fine, in my opinion–no one says you have to champion feminism just because you rock at your job and happen to be a woman. But I love how many women are going beyond the Martha Stewart kind of role and becoming industry rock-stars.