Women in Food Making Waves in 2021

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Article header for women in food making waves in 2021, coral background and images of 7 women.

This piece was written by one of our Community Ambassadors, Tara Rudd, Content Creator and Food Activist. Find out more about Tara here. 

We sat down with seven amazing women who are fighting to make the food industry a more representative place, through COVID-19 and beyond. An accountant hosting Indonesian supper clubs in Hackney, a vegan chef who’s just travelled to Sierra Leone and is creating a book platforming women of colour’s (WOC) food stories from around the world.

How do they relate to ‘food activism'? What inspires them to stay true to what they are doing? Many spoke of how food has helped them gain confidence to do something they believe in, and connect with their heritage. We hope it encourages you on your own journeys! 

Coral background with a cut out picture of Tanya founder of Devis and a quote from her underneath.
Tanya Gohil
Purple image with white text, Tell us about what you do and how it relates to your food activism

A large part of Devi's is platforming food from the Silk Road, an amalgam of travel, exploration, knowledge, expertise, cultures, traditions, people and flavours - from South-east Asia to the Mediterranean and everything in between. Too often food from these regions gets labelled as too ‘ethnic’, ‘unsophisticated’ or ‘unrefined’. It’s a job actively changing this perception but spotlighting and celebrating the contrary helps. 
 

Breaking bread Uzbek style and roasted corn on a hand cart.purple background, white text with a question, what motivated you to start?

I started Devi's in 2014 to escape obnoxious management and the tedium of boring work and conventional adulthood. Having now worked in London's food scape for the last 7 years, my eyes opened to the politics surrounding the industry: food scarcity and inequality, race, class, gender, privilege, elitism, gatekeeping, cultural appropriation, ego, narcissism, ruthless competition, nepotism, the ‘old boys club’, food PR, food media, food ‘influencers’ and insta fame. It slowly percolated an intense dislike and sense of helplessness and frustration. Instead of harbouring those emotions, I started sharing them out loud.

Pink background with quote from Tanya founder of Devis. purple background, white text, how do you stay driven?

It's incredibly difficult trying to both build and keep alive a small food business in London. London is a rich kid's playground. Most of my peers are being squeezed out.

Pink background with quote from Tanya founder of Devis. Purple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself
  1. Transparency in the industry is rare and fleeting
  2. People need to earn your respect and your trust 
  3. Find what gets you going and sincerely honour it
Purple background with white text, who's inspiring you right now?

Anna Sulan Masing, Zsarina Muhammad, Zing Tsjeng, Ruby Tandoh

Image of founder of Healing Table, Kareem Arthur and a quote from her below. Coral backgound, white black and purple text.
Kareem Arthur
Purple background with white text, tell us about what you do and how you started it.

I thought of The Healing Table initially as a mental health space - I wanted women to be able to come somewhere and talk and eat together, no matter what skill level. Last year I had a baby and didn’t go back to work (in kitchens). I decided - sod it - to put my energy into doing something with writing food and community

Purple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in
  1. Trust in the process.
  2. Have the confidence and don’t compare yourself to someone else.
  3. Stay in your lane.
Purple background with white text, finding your voice as a chef

I’ve struggled with that label my whole career. For people who are creative like me, this can be quite stunting. Maybe we need to rewrite how we see that. People getting uncomfortable should be part of that change: “I’m a chef, I’m a writer, I’m a creator’ and that’s okay.

Pink background with quote from Kareem founder of The Healing Table. Purple background with white text, what role does heritage play in your cooking?

I feel like I’ve only just started tapping into the food from where my grandmother’s from. My grandparents were born in Barbados and Sierra Leone. There’s something about getting older and wanting to touch your roots more. I want my baby to know where he’s from.

Pink background with quote from Kareem founder of The Healing Table. Purple background with white text, where do you draw inspiration and learn things

My No.1 way is cookbooks. I find the evocative nature of the way food is described really beautiful. I also love travelling - learning the way people eat fascinates me. 

Edna Lewis 'A Taste of Country Cooking', Beautiful satsuma display from local grocery shop.Purple background and white text, who's inspiring you right now?
Cut out photo of Rahel founder of Sp00ns on a coral background and a quote below.
Rahel
Purple background with white text, how can you relate to what you're doing to food activism?

Spoons is a passion project and way for me to continually stay in touch with and pay respect to my roots. Loads of reinterpretations of Indonesian dishes in the Western eye are watered down and inaccurate - “gado-gado peanut salad” (gado-gado without peanuts is just boiled veg) “chicken in satay sauce” (satay means skewered) - this started to really really irk me. 

2 images, coconut rice and sweet tempe grilled on banana leaves; Rahel at her first supper clubTwo images; Rahel's meals on wheels food deliveriesPurple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself and fighting for what you believe inPink background with quote from Rahel founder of SpoonsPurple background and white text, who's inspiring you right now?

@celestialpeach!
 

Cut out image of Jenny Lau on coral background with quote below.
Jenny Lau
Purple background with white text, tell us about what you do and how you started it.

It started as a vegan Chinese food blog; highlighting how misunderstood Chinese cuisine is, and how it can be the most soul-satisfying food when you utilise its ingredients correctly. The whole adventure has turned into a different type of soul-satisfying; the act of eating as a way to connect with your heritage and to define your identity.

Pink background with quote from Jenny LauPurple background and white text, how has COVID affected the importance of what you do?

It has encouraged me to use my voice for more altruistic purposes. The rise in Sinophobia and the unacceptable increase in anti-East and South-east Asian racism.

Pink background with quote from Jenny LauPurple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in

Whenever I need guidance, I turn to the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

Quote from Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.Purple background and white text, tell us more about your Humans of ChinaTown London project and the importance post COVID

Initially, #HumansOfChinatownLondon was a feel-good project to celebrate Lunar New Year 2020, and highlight the characters who contribute to and make up Chinatown. In a way, it was the last living documentation of Chinatown London before COVID-19 changed everything: 

Pink background with quote from Jenny Lau2 images of humans of china town project shirt designed by Jenny Lau

 

Purple background and white text, who's inspiring you right now?

Grace Young (#SaveChineseRestaurants)
 

Cut out image of Numra founder of Empress Market on coral background with quote below.
Numra Siddiqui
Purple background with white text, tell us about what you do and how you started it.

Empress Market is about telling stories of how I learnt to appreciate and understand my culture through cooking. It started as a food business and now I’m telling those stories in my newsletter, Parcha.
 

Purple background with white text, how can you relate to what you're doing to food activism? Quote from Numra

Being a woman chef, I found I was constantly not being allowed to ‘sit at the table’. I thought screw that - I’m going to set up my own business where people can come to my table and share stories.

Purple background white text, the importance of heritage in your food journey

My cooking is rooted in my Grandma’s cooking, but it is very much in my own style. Food triggers all your senses and this is the basis of how I learnt; I hear a certain song and it gives me flashbacks to the smell of frying onions or biting into halva at a wedding.

Pink background, white text quote from NumraPurple background and white text, where do you find inspiration from and learn things?

I draw inspiration from travel, meandering markets in Brixton and picking up the vegetables - so many things! Last year I was in Cambodia working as a Chef. I learnt how to make harong curry paste and we’d pull fresh turmeric from the ground! It was magic.

Numra by her Pakistani street food stall; Cheffing in CambodiaPurple background and white text, current projects

My newsletter, Parcha! From my favourite knife to interviews, it’s a celebration of Pakistani food and culture.

Pink background with quote from Numra

Alison Roman’s videos.
Madhur Jaffrey.

Cut out of Sareta Puri food activist on coral background with quote below
Sareta Puri

Activism is knowing what your end-goal is and working towards that to make a change. It’s about being engaged in the whole process of what you’re doing. I do this through my writing, Made in Hackney work, Plant Based Planet Cookbook and other projects. It’s easy to get lost and under-appreciate what you do. But change can be done in lots of different ways.

Head cheffing at at Made in Hackney Community Kitchen 2020; Learning How to Make Momo's in Nepal Purple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in

Understanding the why is very important. What change are you trying to make in the world? Write down your achievements and things you don’t naturally give yourself credit for.

Pink background with quote from Sareta PuriPurple background with white text, what role does heritage play in your cooking?

I’m half-Scottish half-Indian, and grew up in a really white area of Edinburgh. I remember wanting to be ‘normal’:

Pink background with quote from Sareta Puri

Food connects and nourishes people, and is a way in which I am able to pay respect to my culture, a culture that has been taken away because food has been so colonised.

Purple background and white text, who's inspiring you right now?
Cut out image of Betty Vandy on coral background with quote below
Betty Vandy
Purple background white text, tell us a little bit about your journey

One year ago I started on a journey that would transform my entire adult life. At 19, I can remember purchasing the Lonely Planet, West Africa edition. I had come out of a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, a miscarriage of my baby that I had wanted so much to live and love.

Pink background with quote by Betty Vandy

My Lonely Planet gave me hope that I could explore independently, plan my own journey, visit places and create memories. But eventually it died down and I got back to living life, finding safety and security in the kitchens of hotels and events.

Pink background with quote by Betty VandyFlyer for Live Cook Along for The Careful Wanderer in Feb 2021; Betty Vandy in Sierra LeonePurple background with white text, advice on staying true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in
  1. Walk in your own shoes. 
  2. Keep growing, and grow together.
  3. To women who think it’s all over: Do it sis! You’ve got that one life! Let them watch!
Purple background and white text, who's inspiring you right now?

...wait and see in the book!

A HUGE thank you to all of the women who took time to share their stories. It was an incredible process to have these conversations. Please do follow them and their upcoming projects.

You can hear from more inspirational women at Spark & Co’s next Talk: Choose To Challenge on Monday 8th March celebrating International Women’s Day!]