Have you ever wondered why restaurant criticism has traditionally been a man’s job, while newspaper food writers (not the critics, the ones like me) are almost always women?
What about why there are so few women pitmasters? Or why people like James Beard get all the credit for the work of food writers like Clementine Paddleford or Texas’ Helen Corbitt?
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that these are the kinds of questions and conundrums that I love exploring. Last year, I wrote three features about gender and race in cooking, starting with a piece in January about the (almost forgotten) history of the early food writing pioneers who were not named James Beard. In September, I wrote about the imbalance of gender in restaurant kitchens that was tied to a book called “Taking the Heat” from two San Marcos sociologists, followed a few weeks later by a profile of Toni Tipton-Martin’s landmark book, “The Jemima Code,” which has been nominated for a James Beard Award.
Next week, Foodways Texas will host its sixth annual symposium, and the subject is gender and food.
Food experts from across the state — including some from out of state — will come to Austin for the three-day symposium, taking place at April 7 to 9 at various locations around Austin, including the University of Texas.
“At Home on the Range” is the name of this year’s theme, and although that title hints at the idea of a women’s place in the kitchen, Foodways Texas director Marvin Bendele has booked lots of speakers who will make sure that all forms of identity, including race and sexual orientation, will also be on the table, so to speak.
Tickets cost $275 for members of $315 for members of the public, and that includes drinks and six meals from local chefs. (You can buy tickets and find out more about the event at foodwaystexas.com.)
Speakers include Pat Sharpe, the food critic for Texas Monthly, and Prudence Mackintosh, a freelance writer from Dallas, who will give a presentation about Corbitt, the famed cookbook author and Texas foodways champion. Monica Perales of the University of Houston will talk about chili queens of San Antonio, and Tipton-Martin, Chris Williams of Lucille’s in Houston and Austin restaurateur Hoover Alexander will talk about the role of African American women in the development of Southern and Texas cuisine.
I’ll be moderating a panel on Friday about the business of cookbooks in Texas with Diana Barrios-Trevino of San Antonio, “The Homesick Texan” author Lisa Fain and “Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking” author Kate Payne.
The symposium will conclude on Saturday night with a Czech dinner with Monica Pop from Sparrow Bar & Cookshop in Houston.