Food and Feminism: Exploring Equity, Sustainability and Career Development in the Austin Food and Service Industry

Produced by #bossbabesATX, SHE TALKS is an ongoing discussion-based personal and professional development series, tackling topics from finances to intersectional feminism.

On Nov. 13 at the Sustainable Food Center, we produced a community discussion featuring four different women in Austin's food and service industry, as we journey through their careers and their personal/political relationships to food.


The Vibe

We are what we eat, both literally and figuratively. Whether you're sitting down to eat a meal with your family or blogging about brunch, your food is just as much a part of your culture as it is your survival—and your relationship to what’s on your plate intersects with those who make it, those who grow it and those who market it. At SHE TALKS: Food and Feminism, we dove into conversation with four accomplished food professionals to explore these intersections and discover some potential next steps for addressing equity barriers  in Austin's food and service industry scene. Hosted at the Sustainable Food Center, with support from Farmhouse Delivery, the talk began with a short mixer activity and light refreshments from woman-owned restaurant Picnik Austin.

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography


The Panel

Featuring three multi-hyphenate professionals, in conversation with Flavor and Bounty's Irvianne TorremoroMeet our panelists and moderator below:

Irvianne Torremoro's (moderator) time spent helping her grandmother cook spurred on a deep love and connection to the kitchen. After culinary school and stints at various restaurant in Las Vegas, she decided to return home to Texas—mainly for breakfast tacos and Topo Chico. Her love of food and words led to the start of the blog, Flavor and Bounty, where she documents the journeys of those in the food and beverage industry as well as making time for pop-up dinner events along the way.

Stephanie Scherzer (panelist) works to connect communities with their land, and make local food more accessible. Her love of farming and passion for sustainable living guide Farmhouse Delivery’s mission and its dedicated staff. She moved to Austin in '93 and has more than 20 years of experience in horticulture – managing John Dromgoole's The Natural Gardner nursery and working for a design build landscape company. She’s eager to help others cultivate a deeper understanding of where food comes from, and empower them to be a part of the process. Stephanie and her partner Kim Beal also own and operate Rain Lily Farm, which provides nutritious food for their family, and contributes to Farmhouse Delivery bushels. As a farmer and a mother, Stephanie believes in the benefits of small-scale urban farming, and is a proud and active part of the Austin Urban Farms group. Stephanie graduated from the The University of Mississippi with a degree in political science and Spanish. 

Priscilla Jerez (panelist) is the co-owner and co-founder of Cool Beans Eatery.  She started Cool Beans as a means to create lean Mexican-style cuisine in pursuit of a vegan lifestyle. Everything is made from scratch and from the heart which was a journey she has expressed love for. Priscilla has passion for Mesoamerican culture, agriculture and is facintnated by the magic of “Maize." Los Angeles-born and raised is Brownsville, Texas for 8 years , she has taken to her family and ancestors to create traditional timeless dishes with a vegan twist. 

Deepa Shridhar (panelist) is the founder and owner of Puli-Ra and Anjore Supper Club. Deepa has always been an avid experimenter in the kitchen, from making her own creations during childhood to starting her own underground catering company after college. At age 13, she remembers coming home and just making her own creations, a favorite being Texas Toast fried in butter with homemade yogurt and hot sauce. Even in college she began working at fusing South East Asian flavors with East Texas favorites, such as a panang curry etouffee for friends. On a trip to Coorg, India she found a food-centric culture steeped in pride that reminded her of home. Coorg, like Texas, was a part of a bigger country with a serious streak of independence and tradition. It was the creativity and freedom of expression that truly pushed her into a culinary career. After college she showed her iron-will by working her way up from dishwasher to line cook. She knew starting out that she had to be the quickest, and the best at any job put in front of her. That was the only way she would get to touch food. After working in several restaurants in Austin, she started her own business providing amazing meals to guests in an underground supper club, and in the Austin farmers’ market. We can now find her at Puli-Ra, a low-country Indian meets hill-country Texan food trailer located at STILL Austin Distillery, where she continues to innovate and expand in every direction.

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Photo by Alex Kacha Photography

Some of the night's takeaways:

1.) Eat local and woman-owned: Austin Restaurants Operated by Women (2017)
2.) The resonating message from the panelists is that if you go to in the food industry, it has to be something you are incredibly passionate about. The field has many obstacles, challenges and rewards, and passion has to be the force that carries you through. All of our panelists spoke honestly about setbacks they faced, but they knew that had to keep going because they belonged to be in the field—and deserved to be. 
3.) We know there is so much work needed in making good food accessible, equitable and affordable. And we are committed to figuring it out with time. Meanwhile, we suggest volunteering with with organizations, like Urban Roots, the Sustainable Food Center and Fresh Chefs Society
4.) Learn more about Texas' farming industry, so when it comes time to vote you're better informed on issues regarding agriculture.
5.) Recognize that gender equity issues are intersectional; undoing systems of disparity against women WILL positively impact the food community. 
6.) When working in the food and service industry, there are times (as a woman-identifying or non-male person) you will have to prove yourself because ignorance and discrimination does exist. Even if you cannot change the minds of others about your existence and presence in the field, find your tribe and lean on them for support, problem-solving and joy.
7.) Do not devalue yourself, your food, your plates or your prices. Know the worth of your hour, your product and what you are putting out—and stick with it.
8.) Have a dream and an end goal, then make a real plan to get there. Where should you work first? What kind of skills might you need to get where you want to be? What sorts of environments should you seek to develop those skills?

Recommended Reading:
 

I've Worked in Food for 20 Years. Now You Finally Care About Female Chefs?
'Cooking Up Trouble' Brings Feminism into the Kitchen
Women Aren't Ruining Food


learn more about the producers, partners and venue:
 

About #bossbabesATX, the producer: Through our programming, we hope to foster community, conversation and commerce around women in creative industry and the arts and women-owned businesses. Our productions center on personal and professional development, activism, the arts, entrepreneurialism, and community infrastructure. We believe intersectionality, informed decision-making, sharing professional resources and actively advocating for women's rights and the rights of marginalized peoples are inherently valuable and beneficial. Learn more about our programming and mission at bossbabes.org/why. *Our events prioritize the voices of self-identifying women and non-binary folks. We are not gender-discriminant; all are welcome to attend.

About Farmhouse Delivery, a supporting partner: Farmhouse Delivery brings local, fresh and organic produce, top quality meat, natural pantry items as well as freshly prepared meal-kits right to your doorstep. They've been delivering and supporting Texan farmers since 2006. (And this event was made possible in part to their donation to our programming!)

About the Sustainable Food Center, the venue: Located in Austin, Texas and founded in 1993, with roots dating back to 1975 as Austin Community Gardens, Sustainable Food Center is involved in every step of our local, Central Texas, food system. SFC's mission is to cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food. SFC envisions a food-secure community where all children and adults grow, share, and prepare healthy, local food. From seed to table, SFC creates opportunities for individuals to make healthy food choices and to participate in a vibrant local food system. Through organic food gardening, relationships with area farmers, interactive cooking classes and nutrition education, children and adults have increased access to locally grown food and are empowered to improve the long-term health of Central Texans and our environment.

This production has been made possible in part by the LINE ATX, a presenting partner for #bossbabesATX's 2017 to 2018 programming. We're grateful for their support and commitment to gender equity.

Stay tuned for our upcoming productions here.

Jane Claire HerveyComment