Slow Food women are forging change in the food system

 March 07, 2023

Slow Food commemorates International Women’s Day by highlighting women who grow food and preserve food cultures in their daily lives. According to the FAO, women produce between 60 and 80 per cent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world's food production, yet their role as food producers and providers - and their critical contribution to household food security - is only recently being recognized. FAO studies confirm that while women are essential to small-scale agriculture, farm labor and day-to-day family subsistence, they experience greater difficulty than men in accessing land, credit, as well as productivity-enhancing inputs and services.

“It is incredible how a seed, a recipe, a food can be a symbol of the women’s struggle; how we can make the inequalities and injustices that we face day by day visible through food, and how food acts as a mechanism that controls access to all our rights," comments Dalí Nolasco Cruz, indigenous woman from Tlaola Puebla, Mexico, and Slow Food Board Member.

“Because of the struggle of thousands of women across the world, today at Slow Food we can tell the stories of powerful women, women who have fulfilled their own dreams and made them collective. Even in the face of adversity women are protecting the food systems of the world, but we cannot do it alone, so on such a representative day for us I call on everyone to join our struggle. Without women there is no communality, community, collectivity, self-determination or regeneration.”

Empowering women to build a sustainable future

There are lots of incredible women in the Slow Food network who work hard to forge change in their communities and beyond, fighting to reduce hunger, increase food security and guarantee food access for all. Some of them are farmers, some educators, some gardeners and teachers.

“As a gardener and teacher, I help women connect with the earth to create something beautiful, and I empower them by providing them with the tools they need to cultivate their own sustenance and build a sustainable future," explains Rachel Olajumoke Okeola, food scientist and gardener from Nigeria. “By nurturing the earth, I am also nurturing the women who tend to it, helping them find purpose and renewed hope. This helps them regain a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Through my projects, I am empowering women to become active participants in their communities and take control of their lives.”

Rachel founded Mias Traditional food and spices, a tea company that processes indigenous spices, fruits, and herbs into healthy drinks and tea. She is also an agricultural science teacher in a community high school where she coordinates school garden projects and training among students.

Raising awareness around food sovereignty

On the same theme: "The garden is a place of collective learning, where people come to learn how to create compost and teachers ask advice to create school gardens," explains Paula Silveira, gardener, educator and psychoanalyst from Argentina.

She sees the garden as a place of learning and life where people can be happy and sow seeds, meet with people who are part of other gardens in the area, and raise awareness around the centrality of the theme of food sovereignty.

Connecting small farmers with producers

Madina Sadirdinova from Kyrgyzstan has been coordinating the Sebet Farmers Market project, as she would like to connect small farmers with producers and urban consumers in order to develop the productive capacity of small-scale farmers and provide urban consumers with clean, tasty farm products.

Creating communities around the food system

Amorelle Dempster, founder of the Maitland Slow Food Earth Market in Australia, shares her thoughts on how as a woman, she has used her skills to nurture and create communities around the food system, and to rebuild and to provide opportunities to create wellbeing, economic benefits and positive outcomes for people she knows and people she doesn’t know.

Advocating for a feminist food policy

Food security is defined not only in terms of access to, and availability of food, but also in terms of resource distribution and the ability to produce food, as well as purchasing power to buy food where it is not produced. Given women's crucial role in food production and provision, any set of strategies for sustainable food security must address their limited access to productive resources.

“If women do 70 per cent of the work in agriculture worldwide, but the land is mainly owned by men, then we don’t have equity yet. If in Germany, only one-tenth of female farmers manage the farm on which they work on, while they also manage the household, then there is no equity yet,” comments Lea Leimann, a young Slow Food activist from Germany. “To achieve a just transition in the food system, we need equal rights and more women in leadership positions. We need to break binary stereotypes and gender norms. We need a feminist food policy!”

Expressing vision for the role of women in agriculture

“No matter where they are, women have always taken care of the land: they sow and weed, observe and collect seeds. They feed the family, nurture traditions and impart this knowledge to future generations."

With these words Ruta Beirote, from Latvia, expresses her vision of the role of women. A farmer herself, Ruta is managing a seed bank trying to preserve traditional Latvian seeds at risk of disappearing. Ruta Beirote's family has grown beans for generations, selecting them by shape and - above all - by color. Besides preserving the local heritage of biodiversity, she makes them available for delicious recipes.

Her message is echoed by Aruna Tirkey from India: “Women are nurturers, caregivers and true protectors of Mother Earth, including natural food systems. As entrepreneurs they can be real change agents for lives, livelihoods and for climate-friendly development.”

Aruna Founded the Oraon Slow Food indigenous community which organizes education campaigns targeting schools and hostels for both urban and rural students and promotes Adivasi food and the cuisine of Jharkhand, strengthening local culture and identity.

Speaking out for women in agriculture 

“Having been born in the 1960s when the Women's Rights Movement was still gaining momentum. My mother, Diane Kaiotehkwe Woods raised me to be a strong woman and inspired me to achieve whatever I wanted to in life. In the Kanienke'ha'ka (Mohawk) culture, women have a strong voice in the decision-making process. We are a matrilineal society. Historically, farming was the responsibility of the women, while the men were out hunting, or fighting to protect the people. But in many societies, farming is "man's work" and women are still not respected for their contributions to agriculture in their communities," adds Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, Executive Director, Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute and ITM Counselor, Slow Food Turtle Island Association in the USA.

“Part of my work with Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute is speaking out for those women, and providing support for their work in the field of traditional agriculture and sustainable living. Also, through my involvement with Slow Food Turtle Island Association, I am working with indigenous communities around the world to gain equality for women in the fields of farming and sustainability."

Developing sustainable socio-food models

“Designing, acting and innovating to foster change”: with this motto Samantha Vergati, an Italian living in Paris, France, develops new accessible, sustainable and quality socio-food models while creating employment for women in difficulty with a view to emancipation and autonomy.

In 2016, she founded the Altrimenti association with the aim of bringing a new culture of taste and a unique solution to the issue of food waste and healthy and sustainable food for all, with the objective of creating socio-professional integration paths for women in precarious situations. “We would like to promote new eating habits and culinary practices which contribute to the autonomy and emancipation of women."

Supporting women to go out of their comfort zone

Paula McIntyre, chef and Director of Slow Food in Northern Ireland, is also working with other women, managing a charity which promotes and empowers young women on the north coast of the island. “As women we need to support and push each other, sometimes out of our comfort zone. #EmbraceEquity focuses on the need to show women they can do and be anything they want to. Often we talk ourselves out of things because we think we aren’t capable or strong enough. Many women in food have paved the way - we all need to forge harder!”

Shaping the future of food as a chef

Claudia Albertina Ruiz Sántiz, a woman from the Tzotzil indigenous community in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, started shaping her destiny early on: “Everyone told me that after finishing school I would have to get married, but at 14 I refused, and I enrolled in the Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas. It was a rebellious choice, I admit, and not easy for my family, but it was very important for me.”

She followed her passion and has since been nominated among the World’s 50 Best Young Chefs who will shape the future of food. “I buy ingredients only from small-scale local producers and I only use seasonal foods, as the Slow Food philosophy suggests. As an Alliance cook I’m part of Slow Food, and for me, it’s very important to belong to this network, because it helps me to add value not only to the produce of my land, but also my indigenous roots. I’ve come across lots of discrimination due to being a woman and indigenous, but I’ve never given up or lost hope that making change is possible.” 

Listen to her podcast.

Helping communities injured by earthquake

"The wish of the people in the region hit by the earthquake in Turkey was finding someone who would support them morally. We also left the language of consolation and tried to make them feel that they are not alone. Despite what we witnessed in the earthquake area, we had to maintain our composure and resilient stance and stand upright in the face of earthquake victims.  We buried our tears inside and tried to do the best we could, whatever we went to that area to do," comments Serra Beklen, a Turkish chef who is trying to help communities injured by the earthquake.

“Years ago I left Italy to study abroad, but after graduating in foreign languages and literature, I rediscovered my love for the Karst and returned to my homeland,” concludes Sara Devetak, who together with her husband Pavel runs the family farm specialized in the production of Karst marasca honey, a Slow Food Presidium. "For me, family, land and work are one and the same thing. "I am lucky to have a big, beautiful and united family. I fight for what I love and never give up. Just like my grandfather Renato; just like those who, in these limestone soils, alive with rock, heroically resist.”




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