Maria Canabal on the Role of Women in Gastronomy

There will be numerous meetings focusing on women and their role at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. One of them, the great conference entitled Liberated Earth, will feature Maria Canabal talking with the chef and activist Alice Waters and the actress Lella Costa.

Although they are keepers of gastronomic tradition everywhere, they take care of and love the kitchen, there are few women who take the spotlight in gourmet dining.  Further, only a small percentage of women engaged in agriculture – 2%, to be precise – own the land.

Yet many are culinary masters, giving life to extraordinary dishes, with few ingredients, and without waste. How is it possible that gourmet dining is therefore almost exclusively reserved for males?

«The female point of view is missing». We agree with Maria Canabal, French gastronome (Parisian, Spanish grandparents, raised in South America), journalist and above all feminist.

A new feminism

Maria has given life to the Parabere Forum, an international organization that spreads the opinions and female voices about the main issues of gastronomy and not only: “It takes a new feminism – she tells me – that moves into high gastronomy. The problem is not men: it is the whole society that is patriarchal. And we women accept it, always forced to work hard and free: we keep the house clean, we cook, we make life easy for everyone. Except for ourselves. These are all tasks that would be paid out of the family context ».

The commitment of women is not recognized also because it is not told. “Too often we have grown up with the” good girl syndrome “: kept to do everything well, but without too much publicity. We must be discreet, silent, aloof. I say, instead, that we must follow the first and trivial lesson of any marketing course: you have to do things well and let them know. ”

And from marketing, Maria moves on to facts. In 2010, while working for a Spanish magazine, she came across an article in which the female component was quietly left in the margins, and from here began her battle: “At a newsroom, I argued that our newspaper was not representative of the society. I pointed out that people in the kitchen, as in other sectors, are always men, while in the world population women represent 52 percent. The boss, sure of himself, said that there were no women chefs. He threw me a challenge: if I had found females in the gourmet sector, they would have earned the cover as their male counterparts. At that point, however, I won the battle, but not the war: the initiative was suspended shortly after because the numbers for women sold less ».

Male domination in high cuisine is no accident. “The model of haute cuisine was codified by Auguste Escoffier, who took the army as a model, with military grades and the uniform. The kitchen is based on command, order, hierarchy. While all studies show that feminine values are empathy and collaboration. A kitchen is not the best place for those inspired by these values. The kitchen generates a lot of unhappiness and stress. And at the same time, the kitchen needs diversity, to revise its model”.

“Cooking is a fantastic world, but it must make its own coming out. Now it’s a tough world. Tiring. Physically and psychologically. It is a place with a very strong sexual tension, moreover, where so many abuses occur “.

Against Discrimination

It is here that Maria understands that the change must have been much deeper. In 2013 the United Nations launched the HeForShe campaign to combat female discrimination: “If the UN moves it is time for me to move,” and founded the Parabere forum. The name is already a declaration of intent: the Marchesa de Parabere is, in fact, the pseudonym used by the author of the first Spanish culinary encyclopedia. The author, Maria de Echague, despite the eight children during the civil war successfully managed a restaurant in Bilbao, before opening another in Madrid. It was a period when very little was given to women. For example, only the aristocrats were allowed to write books or newspapers. Maria was not noble, but she made herself noble to evade this abuse and transformed herself into the Marchesa de Parabere ».

Today the Parabere Forum is a solid network that organizes a plenary meeting a year. Moreover, they work with the UN, promote meetings in big cities, have a database of 5,000 names of women chefs, sommeliers, producers, scientists, anthropologists, innovators, for interventions and testimonies “so that we can respond to the man that tells me: I do not invite women because there are no professionals in that particular sector “.

by Andrea Garassino, a.garassino@slowfood.it

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