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International Women in Food You Need to Know

If there’s one thing I learned during Parabere Forum 2018, it’s that there are amazing women in food all around us. Maybe they aren’t well-represented in the media and perhaps they don’t enjoy the same celebrity status as men, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And it definitely doesn’t mean they aren’t crucial to the international food community.

Parabere is an annual forum, held in a different city each year. This year’s edition was held in Malmö, Sweden in March and next year’s will also take place in Scandinavia, in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The forum brings to light the most pressing issues in food and does so from a female perspective. The theme for 2018 was “Living Cities”.

The many chefs, speakers and food professionals who presented at Parabere 2018 in Sweden. At top, cheesemaker Lise Brunborg of Norway is producing extraordinary products that you must try. (Photo of group by Janine Kennedy of VacayNetwork.com; photo of Brunborg by Tommy Ellingsen)

Attendees heard from fascinating women who spoke on a range of topics concerning how to keep the world’s cities fed through sustainable initiatives. Perhaps even more importantly, many presenters spoke about the best ways to keep cities nourished, which requires a lot more than just access to food.

Some of the world’s most innovative work in food security is being done by women — whether through urban aquaponic farms like GrowUp in London, or programs such as OzHarvest, which feeds and also empowers marginalized citizens of several countries. Individuals like Lara Gilmore in Modena, Italy, were recognized for innovative program development. Gilmore and her husband, Massimo Bottura, brought together special needs teenage boys and Italian grandparents to keep food traditions alive through the Tortellante Project.

As you plan your travels around the world, you’ll encounter initiatives to create strong and ethical food cultures. Much of that food advocacy work is being done by women. Here are just a few of them who you should know about:

Apollonia Poilâne, shown at her Bakehouse in Paris, is a third-generation bread maker. (Photo courtesy of Helene Saglio)

Apollonia Poilâne, Paris, France

When her grandfather opened Paris boulangerie Poilâne in the 1930s, his mission was to make bread for the working class. This resulted in larger, two-kilogram (4.4-pound) loaves that you still see today when you visit one of the several Poilâne establishments in Paris or London. When her father, Lionel, took over in the 1970s, he transformed their loaves into a luxury product.

Representing the iconic boulangerie’s third generation, Apollonia Poilâne has taken elements from both her father and grandfather — accomplishing a bread for everyone. Through their innovative Bread Club, non-Europeans can have Poilâne loaves delivered by FedEx to wherever in the world they reside, while the people of Paris still come for the high-quality, long-lasting loaves they know and love.

“We have new generations coming into the store but I think it is remarkable that we haven’t had such a drastic change in our customer demographic over the years,” she says. “Back when we first opened, the loaves had to be big enough to sustain people. That’s still the core of how we go about the products we develop.”

Since co-authoring her first book, Ceci N’est Pas un Livre Pour Faire du Pain”, Poilâne’s mission is to encourage people to stop bread waste by buying better quality loaves and using stale or older bread for other dishes.

Poilâne has been running (and expanding) her family business since the age of 18. Instead of an office, it’s the bakehouse kitchens where you’ll often find her. Her bread is deserving of all the hype, making a visit to her historic Parisian bakery a must for any food enthusiast.

Canadian chef and activist Joshna Maharaj has brought social issues to the forefront in her home country. (Photo courtesy of Joshna Maharaj)

Joshna Maharaj, Toronto, Canada

Joshna Maharaj is a Canadian chef and activist with a mission to modernize and healthify the foods served in Canadian institutions.

As the official Canadian correspondent to Parabere Forum, Maharaj spends her time traveling, speaking, cooking, and promoting her food movement, Take Back the Tray. An expert in the field of social gastronomy, she believes that real food, cooked with love, has the power to heal the physical and social issues in our society.

“As a chef, my food style is deeply rooted in my values,” she says. “On the plate, I try to produce food that is wholesome, honest and crazy delicious — pushing the idea that you can eat in a way that’s good for your wallet, good for the planet, and a joy for your mouth!”

Maharaj has started a crowdfunding campaign to publish her manuscript and manifesto for the Take Back the Tray movement. Her belief that institutionalized food in Canada should have the power to heal and empower those eating it — referring to patients, inmates, university students or anyone who is part of an institutionalized feeding program — is both innovative and old-school since it largely involves cooking uncomplicated foods from scratch.

“Reconnecting people more securely to the basic life force that is food is the thing that I am most passionate about in this world,” she continues. “I’ve devoted my life and my career to rebuilding these lost connections, as I am convinced that there are better outcomes available for all of us, for our communities and economies, and for the planet as a result.”

Kathe Kaczmarzyk

Sweden’s Kathe Kaczmarzyk has turned fermentation into a massive enterprise that aims to help people eat healthier. (Photo courtesy of Kathe Kaczmarzyk)

Kathe Kaczmarzyk, Malmö, Sweden

Kathe Kaczmarzyk is international in every sense of the world. She was born in New York City to Polish parents and her home is in Malmö. Her claim to fame? Fermentation.

Kaczmarzyk  isn’t just interested in fermentation. She isn’t just teaching others how to make kimchi or kombucha. She is part-educator, historian, collector, chef and scientist. She regularly teams up with some of Europe’s brightest culinary minds for fermented restaurant pop-ups and is completely respectful of the roots of fermentation — including exactly how “un-cheffy” the need to preserve foods was, and remains, to many cultures around the world.

She has an impressive collection of living ferments. If you were to check her luggage at the airport, you would, most definitely, wonder what the actual hell she’s into — the various living organisms that make up her collection often accompany her travels to teach about the positive role fermentation can have in a healthy lifestyle.

“The way my ancestors knew so much about kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough and kvass was because it was passed down to them through Polish food traditions. I like to believe that in every country that this is still true,” she explains.

Kaczmarzyk can be found doing workshops all around Europe. Keep updated on her schedule by joining her mailing list and prepare to have your mind blown by the weird, wonderful worlds of mold and bacteria.

Lise Brunborg, Stavanger, Norway

Living in Stavanger, on Norway’s wild west coast, Brunborg specializes in cheese. Her famous blue-veined, cow’s milk cheese — called Fønix – is prolific. She also makes two semi-hard cheeses: one, a classic washed-rind called Pan, and the other, washed in a culture that uses local beer, called Konrad.

What sets Brunborg apart from other artisanal cheesemakers is her ability to share knowledge, her desire to craft her cheeses within Stavanger’s city center (as opposed to making a rural farmhouse cheese, which is the norm), and her exclusive use of certified organic milk from only one local farmer.

“I think if you are going to produce artisan cheese, there should be no compromises. I use fresh milk, daily, from the one and only organic milk farmer in our area. Kolbjørn, the milk farmer, is incredibly good at his profession, taking the best care of his soil, grass, feed, milking routines and animals. The milk is at such a good quality that all the cheeses are made of raw milk,” she explains.

Brunborg, whose background is in environmental chemistry, has combined her passions for cheese, social equality, and environmentalism with her work and believes there is much more room in Norway for more small cheesemakers.

“While at university, I saw that all the research and knowledge only benefited the one big dairy in Norway,” she notes. “I wanted to do something about that and started traveling the country to work at artisan cheese factories. I wanted to learn from their experience and to share with my knowledge. I find this work very important, so even though I am now running my own cheese factory I still work as a supervisor for cheese farmers and teach courses for milk farmers.”

Stephanie Swane of Modernist Cuisine, has thoroughly researched bread cultures around the world. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Swane)

Stephanie Swane, Seattle, United States

Stephanie Swane is the editorial director and publisher at Modernist Cuisine. Her latest feat? Publishing the newest behemoth in the world of bread literature, Modernist Bread. It is a 2,642-page, multi-volume book set and it covers just about anything you ever wanted to know about the history of bread and the bread-making process.

Swane has researched bread from every possible angle and culture. Her own food ethos was formed on her family’s wheat farm in North Dakota. Bread and, particularly, the art of fermentation and sourdough is close to her heart. She studied art history at the University of Washington and, as an avid crafter and artist, can be found at fairs around Seattle, selling her pieces.

“My grandparents were farmers that left Scandinavia for a better life in the Dakotas surrounded by other people on the farm from their homeland,” she says. “My father and my grandparents were always connected to the soil — teaching me about the importance of getting your hands dirty and the connection to your plants. Growing up in the Bay Area during the ’70s I was always around local produce and growers due to the natural foods movement.”

After she left California, she settled in Seattle, where she grows her own food. She shares a greenhouse and a beehive with her neighbor and is able to grow, cook, and preserve much of her own food.

“I always have a jar of honey or pickles or jam to bring to a party year-round,” she continues. “Every time a jar opens I think of the time spent in my garden and the happiness it brings me.”

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