For generations, the duties of care and provisioning for the family have been

carried primarily by women. Food preparation, serving, and work within professional

kitchens have fallen to women throughout history, yet the acclaim and credit has

historically gone to men, with women facing discrimination and structural biases that

their male counterparts do not contend with (Allen and Sachs 9). Women have

historically served the primary roles of food preparation, yet the modern culinary

industry remains predominantly male (Druckman 25). The disproportionate

representation of female-identifying food workers permeates all levels of the food

system yet is particularly noticeable within the modern restaurant kitchen and food

media. This paper seeks to discuss the challenges faced by women chefs in the modern

kitchen and food media, as well as the externalities brought about by the cultural

structure of differential treatment and familial responsibility. It should be noted that

this analysis will divide the kitchen along the traditional gender binary of “men” and

“women” and does not delve deeply into the experiences and disproportionate

challenges faced by nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ individuals in the kitchen for sake of

length and focus. The historical role of women as provisioners and caretakers within

both the family unit and society as a whole has profound implications for the experience

of women within the food chain. These effects are present within the professional

kitchen, food media, and more broadly the food service industry as a whole. The

differential treatment of women in these positions, alongside structural biases, have

created a system which perpetuates discrepancies in representation and access for

women across the food system today.

        Prior to approaching the modern role of women within the restaurant kitchen

and food media, it is critical to gain a topical understanding of the historical context

behind these issues in order to inform our modern analysis. Women have occupied the

primary role of food preparations for generations, yet traditionally, it is men who are

highlighted as chef and awarded recognition and acclaim as a result of their work

(Whitaker). The word chef itself is derived from the French chef de cuisine, meaning

“head of the kitchen”, a term which is always conjugated in the male gender (Druckman

25). The word chef itself, therefore, carries an inherently gendered meaning. Until

recently, the prospects for women in the culinary sphere have been significantly limited,

with one author proclaiming, “in the late 1960s a career as an astronaut was considered

more promising for a woman than that of chef,” (Whitaker).

      Women’s role as culinary caretakers has historically coincided with the ethics of

caretaking, with women performing the lion’s share of food-related tasks while retaining

little control, decision making power, or agency within the food industry as a whole

(Harris and Guiffre 28). While bearing the responsibility for nourishing others, they

often do not adequately nourish themselves as a result of the societal and systemic

obstacles they face (Allen and Sachs 1).

       We must also look to the historical role of food media, cookbooks, and

advertising as it relates to women within the food system. Early cookbooks were

primarily filled with recipes to serve a family on a budget, as well as to serve to impress

your guests (Whitaker). Including substitutions for cooks without fully stocked pantries

was common, and recipes were typically measured in less standard terms, using

estimates and colloquialisms instead (Zafar 457). These books were primarily written by

and for white women, but heavily influenced

by African American foodways as African

Fig. 1 – Print marketing for Betty Crocker cake
mixes, which would eventually become the hallmark
of this character’s identity. – “Vintage Betty Crocker:
Perfect Vintage Cake Recipe.” Frugal SOS, Sara
Noel, 31 Aug. 2016,

American women fulfilled a pivotal role

within the white kitchen without recognition

(Zafar 460).

           In order to understand modern food

media, we must look to early food marketing

and advertising. One prominent media figure

during this time was the fictional Betty

Crocker, the spokeswoman for General Mills

created in the 1930s (Shapiro 29) ;(see fig. 1,

fig.2). During this time, Betty Crocker served

as the integral link between the consumers

and the corporatization of the

American food system. As

boxed food skyrocketed in

popularity due to the

convenience, low cost, and

effective marketing, companies

Fig. 2. Vintage Betty Crocker marketing. This image highlights the stress
placed on making baking faster and simpler for the modern housewife. –
Morioka, Lynne, et al. “Vintage Ads for the Ladies.” A Taste of General
Mills, 2 Sept. 2015,

such as General Mills required

a human connection to their

customers if they wanted to

maintain the older view of home

cooking (Shaprio 30). In response,

these company figureheads were

generated (interestingly, the majority

were female) and featured heavily in

advertising and media.

Cakes were known as, and still are,

one of the most difficult tasks a home

cook can undertake, requiring time, a

multitude of ingredients, and lots of patience. Betty Crocker cake mix was General Mills’

ingenious response to this realization and was marketed extensively across the US in both

print ads, columns, and radio advertisements (Shapiro 38). This effective marketing strategy

and convenient new products planted Betty Crocker squarely into the American psyche, with

surveys conducted by General Mills indicating that by the early 1950s, 99% of American

housewives were familiar with the Betty Crocker name and line of products (Shapiro

33). Through building Betty Crocker into a household name, General Mills were not

only able to effectively aid their large consumer base in the transition into the new

methods of fast food preparation, but also played part in creating a cultural icon which

linked femininity to household duties, entertainment cooking, and subservience. These

themes are still present in the modern portrayal of women in food media.

           Moving forwards into modern analysis, it is clear that the very foundations of

the restaurant kitchen create a highly gendered space with different connotations for its

male and female occupants. These structures affect women who work in the demanding

and male-dominated modern restaurant kitchen, fostering a workplace culture which

makes hazing and other discrimination against women commonplace (Harris and

Guiffre 28). The division of the modern restaurant kitchen into “hot” and “cold” section

frequently is a visual reminder of the separation of men and women within the

restaurant industry. The hot side of the kitchen, with stoves, grills, ovens, and

preparation stations tends to be male dominated while women primarily occupied the

cold side, responsible for pastries, soups, and sauces (Harris and Guiffre 32). This

divide coincides with the francocentric levels of essentialism in culinary personnel,

placing women in these spaces at a disadvantage in terms of opportunity for growth and

diversification within the culinary field (Druckman 22). In these male-dominated

environments, a common presumption of women’s lack of desire or ability to compete

worsens the divide, resulting in increased harassment and discredit being reflected upon

women than that faced by their male peers (Druckman 30).

         These structural biases extend beyond the kitchen itself and into the sphere of

restaurant management and executives, with women occupying the lowest rungs of

management across the American restaurant industry, and generally are hired for

positions in which they supervise other women (Petrick 55). Women are afforded

proportionately less decision-making power than their male counterparts in comparable

positions and receive less pay (Petrick 55). The value of education and training is

another factor affecting the ability of women to occupy executive positions. Existing

training programs intended to develop employees interested in “working their way up”

to management are not sufficient, and are often under-used by women in particular,

who often do not utilize these programs for fear of not being seen as dedicated to the

current management of their facilities (Cobble 7). Women who applied and were denied

executive positions often held at least a four-year college degree, falling victim to the so called

“sticky floor” narrative which recognizes that while there is growth in the

availability of high-paying executive jobs for women, the sheer volume of women in low paying

industry jobs limits the mobility they are afforded (Petrick 58).


Women in the restaurant industry and more broadly the food system as a whole

are also burdened by the gendered landscape of the heteronormative family. Childrearing

and family care duties often fall to women even when they are employed in the

demanding and male-dominated restaurant industry (Maume et. al 990). Women

experience increased pressure to work long and irregular hours, while simultaneously

under-utilizing programs designed to balance work and family due to the need, whether

real or perceived, to show continuous commitment and dedication to both their careers

and the institution by which they are employed (Cobble 10). When returning home

women are still responsible for the continued labor associated with provisioning and

care of their families, irrespective of class, culture, or ethnicity (Allen and Sachs 2).

       Despite the shifting status quo of the family, gender and family scholars continue

to argue that “men’s greater power within families, deriving from higher earnings in the

labor market, effectively shields them from domestic work (Maume et. al 993). This

feeding work, primarily undertaken by women, is unpaid and often goes unrecognized,

despite requiring significant mental, physical, and emotional labor. Women working in

food service also get significantly less sleep than men in similar positions, and also

experience more sleep disruption than men employed in the same industry (Maume et.

al 995). As women age, their sleep also becomes more disrupted, a phenomenon which

is not mirrored in their male counterparts (Maume et. al 995). The compounding effects

of being under-rested, underpaid, and overworked leave women bearing a

disproportionate burden when trying to balance work and family life. These structural

biases within the family reinforce the roles of subservience that women are occupying all

too-frequently within the restaurant kitchen (Allen and Sachs 4).

        The representation of women in food media, as well as the ways in which

advertising, marketing, and the media shape the psyche of modern women must also be

discussed. While fictional culinary icons such as Betty Crocker have fallen to the

wayside and male chefs are commonly

the recipients of major awards,

accolades, and Michelin stars, the

modern culinary media is full of

Fig. 3. Gordon Ramsay, hot-headed chef of Hell’s Kitchen and
Michelin acclaim. – “Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay –
Watch Episodes.” FOX,

women (Druckman 27). However

prevalent the representation of

women chefs in cooking media may be

today, the portrayal of these women

stands in stark contrast to their male

counterparts. On one end of the

spectrum you have Gordon Ramsay

(Fig. 3) cursing and literally throwing

inadequate dishes in Hell’s Kitchen,

while on the other Ina Garten of

Fig. 4. Ina Garten, the comforting and motherly Barefoot
Contessa. – “Barefoot Contessa.” Food Network,

Barefoot Contessa fame (Fig. 4)

prepares family-style dishes, shares.

cocktail tips, and tags every episode

with the line “how easy is that?”. These

two very different representations can

be linked to the differential experiences

of men and women in the professional

kitchen, and perpetuate the division

between men as fiery, passionate, and

hotheaded chefs and women as comforting, domestic goddesses who focus primarily on

family-style and entertaining (Druckman 29). This presentation of women in cooking media

reinforces the gender binary which exists both within the restaurant industry and the

heteronormative family, with women placed into a role of subservience and provisioning

for families and yet still noting just how easy it is to fulfill these ideal roles (Allen and

Sachs 3).

           The pressure faced by women to fulfill the ideal image promoted by the media,

specifically food media, has created a complex relationship between many women, food,

and their bodies. By exploiting what is referred to as “deliberate and reoccurring

manipulations of issues women face in their real lives,” the media is able to create an

image which women strive for, which contributes to the massive influence of diet culture

as well as the increased incidence of eating disorders (Allen and Sachs 3). This influence

permeates the majority of American media and affects women regardless if they are

employed in the food system or not. In fact, the average woman sees between 400-600

advertisements per day, totaling more than 250,000 messages by her 17th birthday

(Allen and Sachs 10). These advertisements strongly influence the concept of the ideal

body in mainstream media, with an obsessive focus on thinness and dieting, and

contribute to the transformation fantasy which plagues women and young girls alike

(Allen and Sachs 2).

Women’s roles in the food system are undeniably complicated, and vary widely

depending on class, employment, and economic status. However, an undercurrent of

differential treatment and structural obstacles carries significant implications in the

lives of women involved in the industry. Women bear disproportionate stressors of food

provisioning and family care compared to their male counterparts and face increased

hazing and discrimination as a result of the francocentric nature of the restaurant

kitchen. These systematic and structural biases can be observed throughout history,

from the days of Betty Crocker to the modern representation of female chefs in media

today. Women experience differential treatment and disproportionate barriers to

success within the food system as a result of both structural biases and the historical

duties and roles traditionally associated with femininity, and without continued efforts

to level the playing field and reduce these biases will continue to be underrepresented

and underappreciated for their efforts in and contributions to the food system as a




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Fig. 1. “Vintage Betty Crocker: Perfect Vintage Cake Recipe.” Frugal SOS, Sara Noel, 31 Aug.


Fig. 2. Morioka, Lynne, et al. “Vintage Ads for the Ladies.” A Taste of General Mills, 2 Sept.


Fig 3. “Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay – Watch Episodes.” FOX,

Fig. 4. “Barefoot Contessa.” Food Network,