"Alice Waters Should Have Been On That List" And Other Thoughts on TIME's Gods of Food Issue

But really, who gets their food news from TIME?

Nov 19, 2013 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

So you probably already saw this, but TIME magazine released its Gods of Food issue and didn’t mention any female chefs. Four women made the list, but none of them were chefs, and women were completely omitted from this family tree thing.
 
I wasn’t that surprised. I have a lot of thoughts and feels about this whole thing and, because I’m assuming you guys care about my thoughts and feels, I’m going to try and go through them in a rational fashion. Right now it’s all a bunch of gobbledygook.
 
My first thought when I heard about all of this was “Do people read TIME?” I mean, I know people read it in their doctor’s office, but do people actually READ TIME? The last time I thought about TIME was when they had the breastfeeding cover. I’m not snarking; that is literally the last time I thought about TIME.
 
Lists are a good way to get people to read your stuff. I make a lot of lists. They’re easy to write, easy to read, and they inspire a lot of discussion. People love to talk about what should and should not be on the list. Whenever you publish a list, there will be a good bit of indignation one way or the other. People have opinions about what “deserves” to be on lists.
 
In fact, the argument has been made that this list has done us a favor by opening this whole thing up for discussion. People certainly are talking about female chefs now. So that’s the silver lining, at least.
 
But lists are cheap, and I tend to not take them too seriously (jk, I take everything disproportionately seriously).
 
It’s like this: If TIME published a Gods of Rock issue I would flip through it, make some snobby comments, maybe make Sean listen to a mini-rant about the music industry as a whole, and then continue with my day. It would bother me, and I'd probably be indignant for a bit, but only because I like being indignant. Ultimately, I don’t care that much about what the people at TIME think about music. This isn't particularly specific to TIME though, I don’t care what Pitchfork or Rolling Stone think either.
 
Next thought: Do people get their food-related news from TIME? I don’t. I get mine from The Daily Mail (because I am pedestrian) and Eater, but if I did want to get some real info on the giants of the food world, I would go the James Beard Foundation because they're the ones that give out the awards that people really seem to care about.
 
ANYWAY.
 
Surely TIME and Senior Editor Howard Chua-Eoan had a reason for all this? When interviewed by Eater, Howard said that there was “no attempt to exclude women,” and that they did not want to “fill a quota of a woman chef." "We wanted to go with reputation and influence," he said.
 
To which everyone was like “Yeah okay, then how come Alice Waters doesn't have a family tree?” Apparently her tree isn't full enough or something:
 
I know that we considered putting Alice Waters as one of the original four pillars of the chart. Gender balance is important of course. We have four women on our gods list, four goddesses so to speak. And we were considering Alice Waters, but her chart... the thing about Alice is she retains a lot of loyalty, the people who work in her kitchens stay. There are a couple of big names who came out her kitchen, April [Bloomfield] and Dan Barber, I think, but otherwise the tree was sort of thin. So we had to go with someone else at that point. Alice is, of course, iconic.
 
Correct. Alice is iconic. She’s the MOTHER OF THE ORGANIC FOOD MOVEMENT. Whether you've heard her name or not (and most have, right?) the way you eat has been influenced by her. And, according to her Wikipedia page, two out of three dudes on the cover consider her an influence.
 
When asked why there were no female chefs on the family tree, Howard went on to say that he was just reflecting the harsh reality of the culinary world and that women should stop being such betches to each other.
 
Well I think it reflects one very harsh reality of the current chefs' world, which unfortunately has been true for years: it's still a boys club. There are of course very good and terrific female chefs: Carme Ruscalleda, Elena Arzak, April [Bloomfield] of course, Anita Lo of course, and of course Alice [Waters]. But it's very strange, the network of women, as Anita herself has been saying for so many years now, isn't as strong as the network of men. And when you look at this chart it's very clear. It's all men because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone — if not men, themselves actually — to sort of take care of each other. The thing about the women I named, they are all spectacularly good chefs. But they also had to force their way to where they are now, they are almost their own creations. It's unfortunate, the women who are there are very good, but very few of them actually benefited from the boys club, as you can see from the chart.
 
image

I know I've used this photo before, but it's how I feel about the above quote.

 
The next thing I wanted to know was how this made chefs(both male and female) feel. Were they offended? Were they surprised? Did they want an apology?
 
Amanda Cohen wrote perhaps the most entertaining take down I have ever read. Not only does she refer to the issue as "The Conjoined Triplets Linked at the Forehead of Food," she also manages to use the phrase "human centipede" four times. I could pull quotes from it for you to read here, but it's best consumed whole. Go read it.  
 
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It is an adorable picture. Photograph by Martin Schoeller for TIME

 
Amy McKeever interviewed several chefs (you can read the whole thing here, it’s very good) and they didn't seem outraged so much as annoyed and a little sad.
 
Regarding the absence of Alice Waters, Chef Sara Jenkins of Porchetta had this to say:
 
To say that Alex Atala — who more or less is somebody nobody ever heard of until this Summer — is more influential than Alice Waters, that's pushing it, you know? Sometimes I wonder how much history journalists are getting. Alice Waters, I would say, transformed the way this country eats.
 
Other opinions included “it's super douchey” (Tory Miller Chef, L'Etoile).
 
So they weren't super thrilled.
 
BUT WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
 
On a small, personal scale, I just ordered the two back issues of Cherry Bombe (which was brought to my attention by Abby), a biannual magazine that celebrates women and food, and am eagerly awaiting their arrival. This is a small act, but it's something anyone can do to learn more about talented women in food.
 
But we should keep this discussion going. Not the discussion about how terrible and controversial this feature/cover was, but the discussion about women and sexism in the culinary world.
 
It’s always interesting to me (and commenter Lu Miller-Knight) that home cooking is considered a “lady job” but restaurant work is “macho.” I get that professional kitchens are more stressful than one’s home, but it's not like women aren't used to high-pressure environments. 
 
It's telling that there is a divide, though. Creative, sometimes tortured, culinary genius is considered to be a male trait, while cooking out of necessity plays into the idea that women are more suited to the role of "nurturer."
 
It's odd that food isn't one of those things that is free of sexist stereotypes and standards (do such things even exist?) because food is universal. EVERYONE has to eat. Everyone. Some people eat more and some people eat less but it's something that must be done if one wishes to exist as a human.
 
And since we all have to exist as humans and since we all have to eat, we might as well keep talking about food and people and men and women and sexism and gender roles.
 
You know me, I'm always down to talk about food, especially while eating food.