The Beard Awards are commonly referred to as the Oscars of the food world. Ostensibly, that’s because of all of the industry back-slapping and fierce PR campaigns that accompany them. Plus, both have prizes that feature the likenesses of gold, bald men. But in one respect, the similarity between the Beards and the Oscars goes beyond the superficial and into the realm of the sadly predictable: both have an embarrassingly rotten track record of recognizing women for their work.
After taking stock of this week’s ceremony, where three of 24 Beard awards were handed out to women (one of whom, Ariane Batterberry, shared a lifetime achievement award with her husband, Michael), Amanda Cohen has reached the conclusion that more than a few other observers will doubtless share: “Girls can’t cook.”
The Dirt Candy chef has taken to her blog to express her disgust mild amusement with the Beard Awards’ rather dismal track record:
“In 2008, 5 women got James Beard Awards out of 24 winners (a shared pastry award, a shared service award and three regional awards). In 2007, four women got James Beard Awards (two were shared), and they couldn’t even hold onto pastry. In four years, 93 James Beard Awards have been given out, and 15 of them have gone to women.”
As Cohen goes on to point out, the Beards are hardly alone in their reluctance to officially recognize women’s contributions to the culinary world: “Food & Wine recognizes 10 of the best chefs in America every year. Since 2000, they’ve celebrated 110 of them and only 15 women have been good enough to make the cut. Or maybe that was just some kind of tricky affirmative action thing?”
The problem, she feels, is also reflected in press coverage. While plenty of women write about food, they don’t necessarily give much coverage to the women cooking it. As an example, Cohen cites Eater, which is edited by a woman:
“Odette Fada was called “One of New York’s preeminent female chefs…” by Eater. Number of times they wrote about her? Twice in three years. In the same time frame, Nate Appleman got tagged on 42 posts, David Chang got tagged on 86, Sam Mason got tagged on 21 and so did Marcus Samuelsson, Zak Pelaccio got 29, Ryan Skeen got 25 and Johnny Iuzzini got 11. See? Women suck so hard that no one even wants to write about them.”
Well, occasionally someone wants to write about them — just take a look at the recent Gastronomica piece that asks, somewhat reasonably, “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?”
Cohen thinks she may have an answer to the question:
“[I]f you are a woman and you are planning to make a career in restaurants, you won’t get the awards, you won’t get the press coverage and you probably won’t get the big opportunities. Why? Well, there’re only two possible answers and we all know which one is correct: if you’re a woman, you just can’t cook.”
Reviewing the evidence, it’s tempting to reach the same conclusion. And if the film industry is any indication, then we’re going to have to wait an awful long time until someone with a XX chromosome finally learns how to boil water.