More than 500 food bloggers are in town this weekend for the fourth annual installment of 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, BlogHer 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 food blog sphere: 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 partly by Top Chef's insistence on near gender parity in casting - female chefs are almost totally absent from the world's top restaurants. In the U.S., one in 10 restaurants has a female executive chef.
Critics have long bandied about speculative theories to explain the imbalance: Perhaps too many talented women are pigeon-holing 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. The percentage of science, technology, engineering and mathematical positions held by women has been stuck for the last decade at about 25 percent.
When Doris Piccinin, director of Bastyr's Didactic Program in Dietetics, recently arranged for Modernist Cuisine co-author 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 stages (kitchen 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.
Page has encountered plenty of food bloggers who are deliberately using social media as an entry point to a field that might otherwise be inaccessible. Although they've embraced blogging, many BlogHer participants are anxious 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, she says. Cupcake Cuties are now raising their voices as Jane Smiths.
"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."