Breaking the Glass Ceiling Through School Food

I believe she was wearing 5 or 7 bracelets on each arm. She had pink acrylic nails on and hair that resembled Adam Lambert’s.

This week I was lucky enough, despite all the bracelets and nail polish (a big no no in food service) to have two female 11th graders shadow me at school to learn more about the culinary field. For a few hours these young women got a glimpse of what my days are like. One of them had an issue with the 5 am wake up call but for the most part, these two young and focused women came with questions, an open mind, and ready to work on their knife skills.

School food is a lot of things for me: it’s the ability to use great food to educate, to teach, to excite, to grow, and to connect. It’s a platform to reach many generations and teach them why food, up their with family, is so important in one’s life. But, school food also serves as a great arena to showcase how the glass ceiling of gender roles is visible in the culinary field.

Many have written, spoken, and also ignored the fact that men dominate the culinary field. Of course they do. It’s set up for women to fail. Most women put their health and family first and as a result, most women (or most people) don’t want to work over 80 hours a week with no to little time off. It’s a hard business to be in, no matter what area of food service you are in. Most women have a hard time balancing out family and food service gigs, no matter how you shape the gender roles of parenting.

I thrive in school food because it’s more meaningful to me, not saying all women, than a tasting menu. Tasting menus are lovely and amazing but I personally need more. I get to do “restaurant work” with community outreach. Perhaps that’s where more women feel connected. Perhaps that’s why most school food service operations are staffed by hourly and salaried women. Perhaps that’s why I was sent a few female students to explore school food operations. Perhaps!

The young women that entered our kitchen this week are seeking new experiences, they are taking risks, and they are going after something that makes them feel good and happy. They aren’t going after security but rather after sincerity. I have no doubt that no matter where these two young women end up in food service that they will break down barriers of gender and make stronger communities along the way.

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