Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day, is an opportunity to pause and recognize all the women and non-binary people who have made substantial, sometimes overlooked, contributions to society. Pausing to appreciate might seem symbolic, even frivolous. But this small action can be a radical action, as it has the potential to challenge our long held assumptions about what a leader or pioneer looks like.
Write a blog for International Women’s Day! That’s a pretty big topic to tackle, don’t you think? I was stumped on where to start. But as I reflected on the prompt, “from challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge”, I was inspired to focus on the ways women are challenging the status quo in the food industry and pushing us toward change.
Did you know that 79% of vegans and 59% of vegetarians are women? Women are at the forefront of shifting dietary trends toward more plant-based options, which are better for both our plants and our bodies. A big shout out to trailblazers like:
- Anna Kingsford, who in the late 1800s was one of the first women to advocate for vegetarianism, publishing The Perfect Way in Diet, which condemned the consumption of other animals using arguments of animal ethics, human rights, human health, and science
- Lauren Ornelas, who has worked for over 30 years as executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (FEP), a non-profit food justice organization that encourages consumers to choose compassionate food choices
- Aph Ko, who founded Black Vegans Rock in 2015, and works to dismantle the stereotype that veganism was a “white person’s” thing
When we talk about the food industry we can’t forget the individuals working to grow, process, deliver, and prepare our food. Historically this group has been overlooked by job protection legislation (did you know that the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act which mandated worker protections like minimum wage and child labor specifically excluded farmer workers for over 30 years?). But there have been some incredible women doing the work to raise up the workers in the food industry including:
- Francis Perkins, who was an American workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. first female cabinet member as Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She was pivotal in helping pass the minimum wage law. She is also an alumna of my alma mater and a woman near and dear to my heart.
- Raise Up Massachusetts, a collation of individuals and groups that lobbied for the recent Paid Family Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) which offers job-protected paid leave to workers across the state for both medical and family-related reasons and only the fifth paid leave act in the country.
Diversity in Food
There was once a time when European-centric cuisine was seen as the pinnacle of “fine dining”. But the recent influx of passionate and opinionated women has brought greater representation of all cuisines and cultures to our plate. Including:
- Diana Kennedy, who widely shared the cuisines of Mexico and is often referred to as the Julia Child of that country’s cooking. Her cookbook, The Art of Mexican Cooking, taught me how to make my first salsa verde.
- Lindsey Ofcacek, Co-Founder of the Lee Initiative whose mission is to identify a need for more diversity..in the restaurant industry, and find creative and forward-thinking solutions.
- Chefs Ellie Tiglao and Sāsha Coleman of the local-to-me Somerville restaurant Tanam, who focus on narrative dining and telling stories that increase cultural identity awareness through food.
At the risk of this blog starting to sound like an ad for Spyce, I do want to take a moment to highlight the reasons I’m proud to work at Spyce related to the above. We have committed to not serving red meat in our restaurants due to environmental impact and offer the ability to custom every single one of our menu items to fit both a vegetarian and vegan diet. We are committed to high employment standards, including an average hourly wage several dollars above industry average as well as career ladders to grow and develop our team. And finally, our menu represents a broad range of flavors and cuisines, elevating new ingredients and spices.
But of course, we and the foodservice industry have a long way to go. I’m excited to see what we all can change as we continue to challenge.
Lydia Bowers Lydia Bowers oversees People & Culture at Spyce and owns all our HR needs from recruiting to strategy. Spyce is the third startup she’s helped grow and scale the people practice for. When not in the office (which is currently in her dining room – thanks COVID), she loves hiking and can be often found in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her partner and their dog, Hooper.