Updated: Apr 2
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re going to spend this week’s blog post celebrating the female visionaries in food and agriculture. There are thousands of women entrepreneurs, farmers, innovators, business owners, and chefs who are the backbone of the world’s food systems.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, women represent 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force and 47 percent of the global fisheries labor force. In the U.S. alone, 31 percent of farmers are women. In some countries, 70 percent of farmers are women. Even though women make up less than half of the labor force, they produce more than half of the world’s food, especially in developing countries where women account for 60 to 80 percent of food production.
Women are fearless leaders who are changing the food systems and leading the fight against hunger and poverty. Here are some key women in food throughout history, well as some of the women that are currently transforming the food and hunger landscape by advancing the food justice movement.
Dr. Mary Engle Pennington
Next time you wander down the supermarket’s refrigerated and frozen food sections, you can thank Dr. Mary Engle Pennington and her pioneering work in the food supply and distribution system. Dr. Pennington led the revolutionary efforts to develop safe, sanitary methods to process, store, and ship milk, poultry, eggs, and fish. She also oversaw the design and construction of modern refrigerated warehouses and commercial refrigerators.
In 1971, Alice Waters opened her acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkey California, where she encouraged the use of local, organic, and regenerative food. Her efforts helped popularize the farm-to-table movement, which promotes serving local food. Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995, teaching sustainable food education to children across the world. For over 50 years, Waters has led groundbreaking advocacy and activism surrounding sustainable agriculture and childhood nutrition.
With her roots in New York City, Karen Washington has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way to get fresh, locally grown food to all New Yorkers. As a farmer and community activist based in the Bronx, Washington helped launch City Farms Market, co-founded Black Urban Growers, and started Rise & Root Farm.
In 2018, Nina Compton became the first Black woman to win a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. Compton winning the award was particularly significant because it highlighted the lack of black woman winners in the category despite the strong influence black kitchens exerted in the area. After a strong showing on Top Chef, Compton has opened two restaurants in New Orleans that fuse the rich culinary traditions of the city with her Caribbean roots.
Impact of Food Insecurity on Women
Unfortunately, when we look at the number of women in poverty across America, we notice a disproportionate impact of food insecurity on women, particularly women of color, due to the gender wage gap, prejudice, and unaffordable childcare. The U.S Department of Agriculture has conducted research that shows single-mother households with children experience high amounts of food insecurity at 30.3 percent. The detrimental health effects of food insecurity and hunger often hit women the hardest, especially for mothers. Mothers are more likely to sacrifice their own nutrition if their children are struggling with hunger, putting them at higher risk of obesity. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) help low-income women, pregnant women, mothers, and their children stretch their budget and receive the nutritious foods necessary to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we recognize and appreciate the women working hard to put food on the table for their families. Your donations to Second Harvest Food Bank help us continue our work of hunger relief and advocacy for food policy that empower women.
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