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Building Tools to Create Equity

Julia Turshen

September 27, 2018

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Julia Turshen Photo by Gentl & Hyers
Photo: Gentl & Hyers

This week, 20 women chefs and food business owners from across the country are convening at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They’ve come together for the James Beard Foundation Women’s Entreprenurial Leadership program (WEL) presented by Audi, which is a five-day deep dive into leadership training and management. As part of the Foundation’s commitment to advancing women in the industry, we’re sharing stories from female James Beard Award winners, women’s leadership program alumni, and thought leaders pushing for change. Below, bestselling cookbook author Julia Turshen explores the motivation and inspiration behind Equity at the Table, a digital resource geared towards increasing parity in food.

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Equity at the Table, a.k.a. EATT, is an easy-to-navigate digital directory of women and non-binary individuals in food that focuses primarily on people of color (POC) and the LGBTQ community. The site launched on April 4, 2018 with about 100 founding members, an advisory board, an email address, and a web designer with a lot of stamina. Over the course of just a few months, membership has more than quintupled, one part-time employee runs an EATT Instagram feed that has over 5,000 followers (and counting!), and a regular email newsletter goes out to members to share job postings and other community news. EATT members currently live across 50 states and 10 countries. They also represent 13 intersecting identities, 43 different food professions, and 26 different resources for food professionals (such as lawyers and literary agents). EATT is as much a reliable, useful tool as it is a community. So why did I start EATT? Because I assumed that something like it already existed. When I couldn’t find it, I made it.

Racial and gender discrimination in the food industry is the impetus behind EATT. While EATT is not a solution to these systemic forms of oppression, it’s a tool to help us all shift power and create more equity in all of the various industries that fall under the big umbrella we call “the food industry.” The spirit behind EATT is tied to the aphorism that it’s better to “build a longer table, not a higher fence.” In other words, EATT is based on the belief that in the face of any divide, adding more seats to the metaphorical table leads to connection, community, and compassion. Moreover, considering who gets to add those seats and do the inviting leads us to increased parity.

I am a cookbook author, which means that I love to give people recipes to make the things we crave. I break down ideas into lists of ingredients along with clear and simple instructions. The meeting of inspiration and information is my sweet spot. In many ways, creating EATT wasn’t dissimilar to making a cookbook. I saw a big idea, broke it down into its parts, worked with people who brought their own expertise with them, and tried to keep the whole thing approachable and simple. EATT’s power lies in its simplicity. It’s free to join and free to use. It makes it easy for people in positions of power, a.k.a. gatekeepers, to find, hire, and feature members. It makes it easy for allies to share resources. It makes it easy for members to find each other and collaborate. It makes the tired excuse “but I don’t know who to reach out to” inexcusable.

While EATT can be used in so many different ways, its overall goal is to foster connection. When an editor reaches out to a writer on EATT to pen a story, or a event organizer reaches out to a chef on EATT to cater an occasion—that’s connection. When one EATT member asked me to include in the newsletter that she was planning to attend the MAD symposium in Copenhagen (an event that has long skewed white and male), in order to see if any other EATT members would be attending, and a slew of members responded—that’s connection. When someone looking to get into farming scrolls through the site and sees someone who looks like them listed as a farmer—that’s connection.

With continued connections growing and developing, a more equitable industry is in our grasp. The more we get to know and celebrate each other, the more we can lift each other up and make space for one another. We can lower our fences, elongate our tables, surround them with community, and pile them high with sustenance.

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Julia Turshen is the founder of Equity at the Table and the bestselling author of Now & Again, Feed the Resistance, and Small Victories. Learn more at juliaturshen.com.

The JBF Women’s Leadership Programs are presented by Audi.