Gender and the food system

Part of creating food system justice is addressing the historical inequities in gender relations.  It has long been understood in the US and Canada that many food system functions are historically gendered, which creates numerous socio-economic, cultural and health problems for individuals, families, communities and the food system itself (cf. Jaffe and Gertler, 2006; Roppel et al., 2006; DeVault, 2008; Allen and Sachs, 2012; Brady et al., 2017).  Although roles are slowly shifting, the majority of farmers are men and many farm women still face the triple day - helping on the farm, looking after the family and the meals, and holding an off-farm job to  help keep the farm operation afloat. A majority of farm workers are also male. Certain food processing functions remain male, others are predominantly female. Celebrity chefs are often male. Women remain the dominant shoppers and preparers of meals. As with most parts of the economy, men's wages in food system work are typically higher than women's.

Since at least the 1920s, food marketers and the food industry have contributed to these gendered roles, particularly the role of women as primary shopper and preparer of food (Levenstein, 1993).  At the end of WWII, the state was complicit in attempting to return women to the household.  But the food industry needed women to see processed food products, which had become more prevalent in the 1930s but really become central to food industry activity post WWII (cf. Winson, 2013), as desirable commodities to reduce domestic burdens, whether they were employed outside the household or not. The food industry heavily marketed their convenience to women and collaborated at least informally with certain segments of the women's movement to that end (see Arsenijevich, 2014).  Fast food and take out promotion continued this trend once women started returning to the workforce and public realm more significantly in the 70s. This resulted in “fewer traditional meals ... eaten together at home, and more men and children ... preparing food at home, though the principle burden still falls on the female heads of households… [studies show] less time is being spent preparing those meals that are eaten at home [and] dual-career households are a major force underlying the trend toward eating away from home” (Connor and Scheik, 1997: 276)

In the dominant discourses, many foods are considered gendered, e.g., red meat is masculine, chocolate is feminine.  Perceptions of food, food consumption, health and body image are also gendered (Beagan and Chapman, 2017).

Social reproduction is the daily processes that sustain human life, carried out more by women then men, usually in the household. Is there a way for domestic foodwork, rather than being oppressive, to be a "source of power, resistance, political activism, creativity and positive emotions" Brady et al., 2017: 82. Can we "imagine an emancipatory future in which food is produced distributed and prepared equitably"? (p. 83).  There is evidence that gender inequalities are not really diminishing, just shifting (Brade et al.) so does this mean that different interventions are required.

Many of the solutions relate to child care, employment, wages, housing and other issues beyond the food system.  But the food system can contribute to broadening the participation of women and men in roles and functions for which they are historically under-represented.

Targeted supports for training, mentors and access to capital for women pursuing "non-traditional" food system careers.  Organizational supports to organizations working in these domains.

Changing the way food advertising depicts gendered roles.

GAI recognizes caring work, including foodwork. and can reduce some of the complexity and stress for low income women