Last night I went to an event at 18 Reasons called "Inside the California Food Revolution: the Female Pioneers," celebrating the launch of Joyce Goldstein's recently published book, Inside the California Food Revolution.
The night featured a panel of six women including Joyce, among them: Amaryll Schwertner of Boulette's Larder & Bouli Bar; Emily Luchetti, pastry chef of Waterbar and Farallon; Kathleen Weber of Della Fattoria; and Adriana Silva, co-owner of Tomatero Farm. Each told her story of entering and working in the Californian food industry.
I've always felt particularly connected to strong and independent women, the ones who are bold, fearless, and unafraid of speaking their minds (Think Mary Karr or Gabrielle Hamilton), and these women were all of those things. The common thread in the stories these women told was the desire to feed and care for people. They weren't in it for fame or glamour; they definitely were not in it for the money. Working in the food industry meant long hours, sweat, and tears, but what kept them going was the persistent engagement with the present moment and an unrelenting curiosity about the possibilities of food. These women found fulfillment in the most vital form of manual labor, a labor of love that is first and foremost essential to survival, but also wholly satisfying in a physical, emotional, and intellectual way.
Here's what I want to remember from the night:
*the importance of understanding history: what came before informs the direction going forward. This almost means discovering narratives, ethnographies, and cultural perspectives to build up one's knowledge of the food and farming ecosystem.
*the need for line cooks in San Francisco, and beyond that, the need for reform in cook's wages (by abolishing the tipping system and mandating a service charge)
*the state of the food industry now: the exponential increase in restaurants; the return to a male-dominated industry; the hype-driven restaurant business; the difficulties of being able to live/survive in San Francisco while working in the food industry.
*learning technique in cooking school is not the same as learning to taste in the kitchen.
*the importance of having a relationship with food and with the people who grow it. The impact of the consumer relationship with food and farms on the entire ecosystem.
*food as a community: these women all knew each other, supported each other, and shared tricks of the trade with each other. They had relationships not only with each other but with consumers.
*cooking as a grounding practice: "after a long day, some people come home and drink five bottles of wine, when all they really need to do is chop an onion." I need to remember this when I come home weary and wanting.
We enjoyed a sampling of the panelists' most iconic creations. Here is what we ate:
*early girl tomatoes with burrata & basil
*abruzzese lentil and chestnut stew: sweet and savory and smoky, with wheatberries, carrots, and celery
*a freekeh, quinoa, and pomegranate salad with feta & bacon
*meyer lemon rosemary toast with olive cream cheese
*star-reos (star-shaped oreos)
I've always been drawn to food and the art of eating and the work of feeding people, but honestly, something inside of me is terrified to let those be the guiding forces of my life. Maybe I fear failure. Perhaps I am intimidated by the amount of work and hours that being in the food industry requires. Sometimes I doubt that I even love it as much as I think I do. Still figuring it out -- but thank you, lovely female pioneers, for showing me what is possible.
Other women-in-food I admire:
Samin Nosrat (It's to Samin's credit that I'm involved in 18 Reasons in the first place!)
Yoko & Kayoko
Zoe Nathan Loeb
(see my Twitter lists for women in food here)
Which women in the food industry are you inspired by? Leave a comment.