Is it Possible to Uncover Evidence of a Gender Revolution within Food Studies and Professional Culinary Literature?

Women have always been involved with food: gathering food; growing food; processing food; cooking food; presenting food; feeding their families. is is something that is true across the world and throughout history. Yet in many societies, perhaps most, women have tended to be excluded from higher-status activities associated with food, which are seen as masculine. To this day, even in societies in which women are considered ‘liberated’ from the restraints of traditional gender mores, and protected at work from the most egregious cases of gender discrimination, women are significantly under-represented as top chefs, while they continue to be identified with domestic cooking, both in the public and private spheres. Indeed despite significant shifts in the cultural and material continuities between food and gender, important continuities persist (Cairns and Johnson 2015, 10). Even now, it seems that men’s involvement with food in the public realm is seen as having more gravitas; as being, almost by definition, higher status.

Recent scholars (Avakian and Haber 2005; Cairns and Johnson 2015, p.172) have noted the ‘long-standing and curious division between studies of gender and food where food studies has tended to neglect women and very little of its analysis has been feminist in nature’. In this paper I consider the relationship between the domestic and professional culinary world to uncover the myriad of complexities within this world for women, and the possibility of uncovering a gender revolution within the literature. I begin by briely outlining the historical context of the gendered culinary world, as identified above, by developing an understanding of the domestic arena, looking briely at the historical feminist analysis of the domestic, and finally the feminist revision that has allowed a better understanding of the domestic, and the women that live within this space, without claiming essentialist views. Following from this, I examine the historical development of the professional kitchen, the revolutionary women who successfully broke into this public culinary space and the limitations placed upon their public representations. I then examine contemporary women chefs and their relationship with media forms that reinforce gendered understandings of women and the culinary. I then offer a contrasting culinary example from the global South to reveal an opportunity for food studies to critically challenge the gendered understandings of the culinary world for women, and the structural and cultural impediments that persist within it.

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