Updated: Aug 23
The dawning of Pride Month 2021 is a great time to check in on how gender equality is going in the kitchen. Has the culinary industry made progress?
From restaurant kitchens to television sets and stages, there has been a lot of talk about making the food industry more welcoming for women and LGBTQ+ workers.
Women in the kitchen, but not a restaurant kitchen
The struggle for gender equality in the kitchen has been going on for centuries around the world. A hypocritical dynamic of expecting women to fulfill a nurturing role by staying at home and preparing meals, managing preparation, storage, and buying, has been contrasted by a gaping absence in the industry, with LGBTQ+ chefs and food industry professionals to be found even more rarely.
Gender equality in kitchens at home and in the industry would mean that there is an equal dispersement of genders in fulfilling these roles and all genders have the same opportunities, regarded as equals and respected as such.
Do LGBTQ+ chefs exist in the industry?
There is no shortage of LGBTQ+ workers in the food industry but for years their identities have been suppressed, pinched into silence by an environment that is less than favorable to their presence, often perpetuated by a simple lack of exposure, experience, and awareness.
Assumptions based first on gender creates a system in which the assumption limits all sides.
Women: "Too emotional for the kitchen"
Marco Pierre White famously remarked that women were “too emotional in the kitchen”. These assumptions have a waterfall effect that not only limits the chefs working for him, but gives an impressions to other chefs in the field that they may not be fit for the role.
While some may argue, “dinosaurs” like this seasoned celebrity chef are on their way out, the majority of the industry is still largely governed by these gatekeepers who set the tone for generations.
As an opinion leader who's voice affects an industry, declaring what the genders respectively should “do” in the kitchen effectively cheats everyone out of what is possible. Careless and ignorant statements alienate not just current industry workers but has a ripple effect on younger generations passionate about cooking, looking to role models for advice.
Solidarity is important, nobody needs a protagonist during rush hour.
A kitchen crew has to run like clockwork, it's almost military at times, but that is the old way. If you want to get the most out of your crew, they have to know they are valued for who they are and what they bring to the table. During rush hour the kitchen doesn't need any protagonists, but it does need the full potential of each of its crew members and you're not going to get that by suppressing someone's identity.
To be a chef or to work in the industry brings a certain personality that is dedicated to service, passion, appreciation, and hard-work. Food is a way for us to congregate and is the great equalizer: we all need to eat. The more we realize what really unites us, the greater the result will be.
An industry in danger of losing credibility?
Advancements in technology and transparency via social media have shed light on inequalities across industries and borders. A system that takes gender into account before performance is losing credibility and resources.
The food industry has been slow to change but there are new voices in the field that are making space and offering fresh perspectives. Gender equality is slowly improving but there is always room for change.
Solidarity is essential, diversity is the key.
The goal is this: look at the crew for all you've got. It's a simple fact that a trans cook has had a different life and learning experience than a cis-white male cook, or a young, stylish female lesbian cook, or a black chef, or a Latino chef. At the end of the day, just knowing this and honoring it unites and supercharges your crew in a way that is unbeatable. If nature has taught us anything, it is that diversity means longevity.