More than 500 food bloggers were in town last weekend for the fourth annual BlogHer Food, a conference designed to inspire and educate amateur food bloggers from across the country. Although the conference is open to bloggers of both genders, co-founder Elisa Camahort Page says women continue to dominate the registration rolls. "From the beginning, we started featuring male speakers, because in the food community, it's men who have their light hidden under a bushel," Page says.
According to a social-media study commissioned by BlogHer, the blogosphere is "pretty well split" between men and women. But women are overrepresented in the culinary realm: Although Page stresses it's difficult to determine blogger numbers with precision, her organization believes 70 percent of food blogs are helmed by women.
"The grand appeal of blogs has always been that bloggers can raise a voice without gatekeepers," Page says. "You can find support via a blog, and you don't have to feel you're operating within the existing power structure."
The existing power structure in high-end restaurant kitchens is especially rigid, which may help explain why women with culinary interests have gravitated toward social media. Although many charismatic women have lately emerged as celebrities—aided by Top Chef 's insistence on gender parity in casting—female chefs are almost totally absent from the world's top restaurants. To wit, in the U.S., one in 10 restaurants has a female executive chef.
Critics have long tried to explain the imbalance: Perhaps too many talented women are pigeonholing themselves as pastry chefs, or opting to have children rather than submit to the intense schedule associated with cheffing. Another suggestion, first publicly raised five years ago, posits that the molecular-gastronomy trend has turned off women who aren't comfortable with science, as the percentage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics positions held by women has been stuck for the past decade at about 25 percent.
When Doris Piccinin, director of Bastyr's Didactic Program in Dietetics, recently arranged for Modernist Cuisine chef Maxime Bilet to offer an on-campus presentation, male students were the first to express interest in the program. "They were just blown away by it," Piccinin says. "It touched something in them."
According to Modernist Cuisine's business-development manager (and former Voracious contributor), Scott Heimendinger, most of the interns who pass through the Modernist Cuisine lab are male, but there are two women on the lab's full-time chef staff of five. "I am personally fascinated by the gender gap in professional cooking, and I don't think there's anything unique about modernist cooking that causes the gender bias to skew," he says, referring to the disproportionate numbers throughout the industry.
For her part, Page has encountered plenty of food bloggers who are using social media as an entry point to a field that might otherwise be inaccessible. Although they've embraced blogging, many BlogHer participants are eager to write a cookbook or star in a television show. "It's another metric of credibility," she says.
To that end, an increasing number of food bloggers are dropping their quirky personas and blogging under their real names, says Page. "More and more are merging their online presence with their actual personality," she says. As pseudonymous bloggers are tapped for speaking engagements and freelance writing, she says, "they want to be able to add that to their resume."