New York food writer and author Julia Turshen has created a global project, Equity At The Table (EATT) — a database for food industry professionals that features only women/gender non-conforming people, primarily focusing on People of Colour and the LGBTQ community.
The topic of diversity has been bubbling in the food world for a while — with people like MiMi Aye challenging cultural appropriation and Ruby Tandoh calling out the whiteness of food media. And although the UK hasn’t had its restaurant #MeToo moment (yet) the topic has created conversations in the industry around space spaces, gender equality and different leadership styles.
This week’s reaction to MasterChef’s crispy chicken skin #rendanggate, followed by John Torode tweeting (and then deleting) ‘Namaste’ to perplexed British-Malaysians, shows that there is a real need to be platforming and valuing expertise from a broad section of voices (the current and former Malaysian Prime Ministers weighed in on the twitter debate — so what happens here, has global reach.)
Food has always been and remains part of identity, creates a sense of belonging, and even when it is explored professionally, it is personal. Food is something that can be shared, through skills, knowledge and experience and the expertise is out there in an array of different people. To not have that difference represented in mainstream media or in authoritative positions is misrepresentative of the industry as a whole.
A lack of diverse expertise is not just about representation in a media space, it also leads to bad business decisions such as the controversial Fannys Kebabs, whose choice of location and messaging carelessly and ignorantly sidelined a whole London community in their space of home.
But how can the lack of diversity and equality be tackled? Or more simply, how do diverse voices get heard? It’s fair to say that North America is better at this than the British, where identity seems to be a bigger part of the everyday discourse than here. But, this is a global issue and which is why Turshen has decided to take action with EATT.
This database has a small, but growing, European section which will mean that British media will have no excuse not to be platforming PoC, and business can seek views which perhaps operate outside of their own comfort zone, whose knowledge might challenge the status quo.
EATT is based on the idea that, as an industry and a community, we extend the table, that equality, not just diversity, is essential. The database isn’t a niche group, but rather a traditionally marginalised group, which looks to apply nuance to the food world through valuing the expertise of many. The conversations around equality are difficult but they are not going away. This database is vital tool for the industry and can only mean a more exciting British food culture as it moves forward from here.