Women In the Food Industry Discuss Changing Our Approach to the #metoo Movement
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to women in the food industry.
“I’m gonna kill you.” Words he scribbled on the back of a green bookmark. An idle threat coming from a third-grade boy whose mom probably tied his shoes that morning, but for another third-grade girl whose mom probably tied her shoes that morning, those four words haunted me for years.
I tattled on a male classmate for sexual harassment. When this little boy found out that I did not remain silent, he wasn’t happy. Even at the confused, malleable age of eight, I had a zero-tolerance policy for this sort of behavior. Dealing with a death threat in third grade was a great way to get baptized by fire with the whole #metoo movement.
Straight out of college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity of working for an all female company, Food Marketing Support Services. Being surrounded by some of the most intelligent, revered boss ladies in the food industry was inspiring as a young woman. It provided me with the permission to dream and the hopes that I could be independently successful—not in spite of being a woman, but because I’m a woman.
Next, I moved on to Brisan Group, and after several years earned a place of power as a young, female VP. Contrary to popular belief, I actually learned more about fierce feminine strength working for a man. Brian Vogt, president and CEO of Brisan Group, taught me more about courage, bravery, and setting respect standards than any woman I had ever worked for. He encouraged whistle-blowing and stood alongside me as I fired a male vendor on a project because of inappropriate behavior towards a young female colleague.
“This is Theresa’s decision and I stand by her one hundred percent,” words from Vogt that I will never forget.
Stories like this and many more have caused uncertainty and mixed-feelings for women in food business. There are female-advocates who put their money where their mouth is, but sexism is still very much alive. All in all, I was frustrated with the lack of gender equality progress as a collective food industry. I began to wonder if we were asking the right questions that would lead to real social change. What about the men who have historically empowered women throughout their careers? Does talking about “equality” in an us vs. them format negate lasting social change? What if we all took ownership—men and women—for our role in supporting the growth and success of women?
Searching for answers, I spoke with seven “been-there, done that” female powerhouses in the food and beverage industry to hear what they had to say, and allowed each of them to guide the conversation. What these women had to say was so profound and inspiring, that I have expanded this project from one small article to nine fleshed out stories. The series is categorized by the themes each woman naturally discussed—allowing each topic to get much deserved attention. Each story ultimately demonstrates the mutual positive impact of supporting each other instead of working against each other, because as with all peaceful lasting social progress, it is achieved out of working together, not war. Above all, I hope these stories serve as practical examples that pave the way for a brighter food industry future for all.
The Line Up
I’d like to introduce you to the extremely respected, female powerhouses that I had the immense pleasure of speaking with:
Dr. Kantha Shelke
Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., CFS, is CEO of Corvus Blue LLC, a contract food science and research firm specializing in competitive intelligence and rapid commercialization of ingredients. Kantha practices, writes and teaches food law and food safety from end-to-end in global food/supplement supply chains. An IFT Food Science Communicator and contributing editor at industry magazines (PLMA Live!; Prepared Foods; Food Safety & Quality; and Nutrition Business Journal), she is a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) and a visiting professor at MCI Management Center (Innsbruck, Austria).
When not teaching or working with clients, she helps advance the understanding of food and nutrition, food safety, and regulations by being directly involved with startups successfully tackling food disruption, food safety, supply chain tech, novel ingredients, and precision.
As Founder of The Culinary Architects, Maggie is shifting the way people eat. She is a leader in the natural, organic, and, plant-based food movement. In her 20 years in the food industry, Maggie has identified and translated macro food trends long before the competition. Maggie is a Certified Food Scientist from the Institute of Food Technologists and holds a B.S. in Food Science from The Ohio State University. She currently sits as an Advisor for The Good Food Institute supporting fledgling plant-based companies. Maggie has consulted for large corporations, including ConAgra, Kellogg, and Kerry, as well as many startups.
Natalie Shmulik is CEO of The Hatchery, a successful Chicago food incubator. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, Natalie has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, culinary publications, consumer packaged goods companies, and food service establishments. After successfully operating her own restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains where she enhanced consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie was brought on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company and later moved to Chicago to run The Hatchery Chicago. With over five years of food incubation experience, Natalie has gained a unique perspective on the industry and what it takes to launch and grow a successful business. She was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing for food businesses around the country.
As editor-in-chief since 2013, Jessie Price oversees the editorial content across all EatingWell media platforms including the magazine, books, digital and brand extensions. She began working with EatingWell in 2003 as a freelance recipe tester and soon after joined the team full time. She has worked on 13 EatingWell cookbooks and is the author of the James Beard Award-winning The Simple Art of EatingWell. One of her favorite aspects of the job: tasting recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. (She’s tasted more than 3,500 over the years!) Jessie has also represented EatingWell across national and local media, appearing on NBC’s Today show, TV Land’s Best Night In and video news network Cheddar.
Judy Lindsey is the R&D Director of Sara Lee Frozen Bakery and previous Vice President and General Manager of Product Dynamics. Judy has over thirty years of food industry experience working in all aspects of product development and commercialization. Her expertise is in new product development and the translation of consumer wants and needs to product design and formulation. Her corporate experience was gained working for the Kellogg Company and at ConAgra Foods, Inc. where she held senior leadership positions with responsibility for innovation and new products.
Chef Laura Piper
Chef Piper had a humble start in the industry—as an eight-year old entrepreneur, she filled her Radio Flyer wagon with fresh produce from her family’s Chicagoland garden and sold it door-to-door to her neighbors. Chef Piper is now a three-time “Best Chefs America” award-winner and Executive Chef and Co-Owner of One North Kitchen & Bar and Stock & Ledger. As an adjunct culinary arts professor at Kendall College, Piper has taught and influenced some of the best young chefs in the Midwest. Chef Piper’s education, talent, expertise and passion for food earned her positions at El Raco D’en Freixa (Barcelona), Gibson’s Steak House, Frontera Grill, Le Titi de Paris, and Trattoria No. 10. One North Kitchen & Bar was nominated on the Michelin-recommended list in 2013 and the OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award in 2014 and 2015.
Cindy’s career path is a particularly unique one—after a 15 year career in law enforcement in Northern Virginia, Cynthia Cosco quit her job and relocated to Northern California to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a winemaker. Cindy studied the craft, and worked her way up from lab to crushpad to vineyard and today she owns and operates her own successful brand and tasting room. Cindy Cosco is now an internationally-recognized, award-winning Sonoma wine producer and founder of Passaggio Wines. Cindy is known for her hand-crafted new generation and food friendly wines—and noted by wine experts for unique whites, rosés, and old world inspired reds. In 2016, Passaggio's 2014 new generation Sauvignon Blanc, produced from Russian River AVA grapes, scored 90 points in Wine Enthusiast.
9 Themes discussed
1. Defend Women
2. Provide Opportunity
3. Stop Undermining Each Other
4. Pour For Others What’s Been Poured For You
5. Household Impact
6. Support the Growth and Success of All Women
7. Help Those Beneath You
8. Empower Through Education
9. Change the Conversation
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