This past month showed high pie season at its best. Several events not only honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but also his dream of peace and equality. People came together to enjoy different homemade pies and talk about important issues in their communities.
I attended the Women and Food Symposium at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas. This included three panels of professional women talking about the struggles women face in the food industry to be recognized and their personal struggles in food writing and as entrepreneurs.
The first panel had several food writers and bloggers discussing their experiences with writing about food in the age of new media. The internet has allowed anyone the tools necessary to put out information about what they’re eating and where. One thing that has changed is the speed at which people want that quality information. Jessica Elizarraras, food and nightlife editor at the San Antonio Current, stresses the irrelevance of internet trolls. These are people who go to a restaurant once, either love or hate a menu item and base their experience on that one visit. For her readers, Elizarraras makes sure to always give a restaurant the benefit of a doubt before giving it too harsh of a critic or unnecessary praise. “No matter what happens with new media, there is always a need for measured restaurant criticism, not fanaticism,” said Elizarraras.
There are two sides to the story when it comes to food writing. “Social media might have leveled the playing field, but that doesn’t mean it’s democratic, especially when you look at the lack of pay,” said Kim Voss, University of Central Florida professor and author of “The Food Section.” She talked about the dwindling numbers of students going into food journalism. Like most writers they find that they have interest in a subject, but don’t know exactly how to profit from it. Another obstacle is the competition between other critics competing for the same attention. All panelists agreed that it can get mean out there in the world of food writing, so many have come together to create a network of blogs that link all their sites together. This means less pressure for them to get the first critique and it gives readers a fair analysis of places to eat before wasting their time and money.
One important but sad truth about this industry is how much misogyny can be reflected in the culture. Oftentimes food media can reinforce structural problems in our society, says editor of “Eater Austin” Meghan McCarron. She wants to see more voices in food covered, especially the stories of the people behind the scenes and not just the cooks and chefs. “It’s dishonest to write about the most privileged players in the food world,” said McCarron. She talked about the need for more diversity represented, but also for credit to be given where it’s due. Like that saying about getting to the top, remember not to forget the all the little people that helped along the way.
Author of “The Jemima Code” and one of the board members here at Peace Through Pie, Toni Tipton Martin summed up the main focus of the panel with one question. What is the ingredient that allows women to break the glass ceiling? She says a lot of it has to do with time and experience. Many of the female food celebrities we see on cooking channels are older and play to a certain gimmick. Martin explains how food has become entertainment these days, and how chefs are less focused on teaching people how to cook and more set on selling a product. With all the new media out there food writers and professionals are able to reach a much wider audience, but it’s a matter of tailoring your content to appeal to those viewers. “For now, what we keep getting is what we keep promoting,” said Martin. “Creating community through food creates role models that will create a new atmosphere for future food writers and cooks.”