top of page
  • jr81568

Women That Contributed To Food Culture

Women in food service and culinary jobs have shaped the food service, cooking, and restaurant industry making it a better place for women and men. Many women have improved food access, safety measures, and the ability of minorities to own food businesses. Below we discuss women that have improved the food industry and helped communities find better access to healthier food.

Dr. Mary Engle Pennington

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Mary Engle Pennington developed refrigerated food sections in supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants. She earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania after being denied a degree due to being a woman. At first she received a certificate of proficiency in chemistry and biology instead of the degree she earned.

Faculty member intervened and offered a special program that helped her earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. She taught chemistry at Women's Medical College and later opened her own business called the Philadelphia Clinical Laboratory in 1901. This lead to a job with Philadelphia Department of Health and Charities. She worked with developing safety standards for milk.

She lobbied to pass The Pure Food Act which led to the improvement of the transportation and storage of food. Mary became an expert in safety and sanitation methods or processing milk, poultry, eggs, and fish. Dr. Engle was hired to study the effect of refrigeration on food from the FDA. She developed sanitary standards for dealing with dairy products through lab research.

Dr. Engle inspected refrigerator cars and designed an effective system to transport food to the American troops. In 1923 she founded an organization called The Household Refrigeration Bureau teaching consumers about the importance of refrigeration for food at home.

Dr. Engle spent 40 years educating the public and the government about food safety and processing. She was involved in the design of the refrigerator used for keeping food safe in the home of consumers in the United States. She died in December 1952.

Karen Washington

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Karen Washington is a food activist that has worked at food justice for about three decades. When she worked as a physical therapist, she observed low-income patients suffered more from diabetes and hypertension. Conventional treatment for patients involved medication and surgery. Many patients were African Americans and lived in areas where it was hard to have access to healthy food.

She worked in the Bronx transforming empty lots into gardens to grow vegetables and fruits. Karen founded the Black Urban Growers an organization that supports black farmers and individuals in the food industry. Her interest in gardening lead to het to become involved in community organizing. Gardens were needed for the well-being and health of the community.

She saw major differences between supermarkets in the white community and the black. Poorer communities often developed gardens for health reasons and often had no health insurance. She focused on ways to change the inequality in communities that do not have the same privileges as others. In order to change the system you have to focus on the politics and economics she says.

She launched City Farm Markets bringing fresh vegetable, fruit and produce to the neighborhood. When she retired, she developed Rise and Root Farm a 5 acre farm run by herself and three other women. The farm is located in Orange County New York. They sell seedlings for tomatoes, herbs, greens, peppers, and other vegetables.

The four women took classes at the Farm Beginning Program GrowNYC. They learned about the Chester Agricultural Center where they leased three acres of land and now have six. Karen and the women run the farm full time. They grow medicinal herbs and edible flowers too. Karen Washington spends weekend in the Bronx helping the community with her urban farming project called Garden of Happiness.

Buwei Chao Yang

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Buwei Chao Yang is author of How to Cook & Eat in Chinese. She taught consumers about Chinese cooking and stir frying. Chao Yang was a doctor by profession and turned to cooking after she married and moved to Cambridge, MA. She made recipes at home that reminded her of dishes in China.

With the help of her daughter and husband she wrote a cookbook and translated the recipes into English. Her daughter and husband argued over the translation of the recipes and how to translate them. She refused to Westernize her recipes and showed consumers how to cook traditional Chinese cuisine.

The cookbook was published in 1945 around the time the government repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act an immigration act that restricted the immigration of the Chinese into the United States. The book instructed consumers how to prepare traditional Chinese food using learned cooking methods in China.

Chao Yang's husband studied the dialect and language of different Chinese communities in the US. He was a linguist who worked at Harvard. Chao Yang collected recipes from families they talked with and tried the recipes at home. She became a pioneer in Chinese cooking due to the collection of recipes she collected.

Born in China she graduated from Tokyo Women's Medical College. She often said that she should have been practicing medicine not cooking. She authored How to Order in A Chinese Restaurant as her second book. She died in 1981.

The author Pearl Buck loved her recipes and cookbook. She proofread the book and rushed into the kitchen to try the recipes. Pearl Buck though Chao Yang should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Chao Yang wrote out each recipe and tested them at home. Her husband added some copy to her cookbook before it was published. They tried to make the recipes easier for consumers to understand and enjoy.

Julia Child

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons Julia at KUHT

Julia Child was a well-known chef that studied French cooking in France in 1950s. With friends she eventually started a cooking school called L'Ecole des Trois Gourmade's. In 1961 she finished the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking along with two or her colleagues. The goal of the book was to simplify French cooking for the general public.

Her cooking show on PBS introduced women at home and working to gourmet ingredients and French cooking. The show eventually was syndicated by 96 stations in the United States . She encouraged women to practice cooking as an art not a chore.

Julia met the inventor of the Caesar salad as a child at a restaurant in Tijuana when vacationing with her parents. Julia was not a very good cook in her 30's. She ate frozen dinners and prepared food. This changed when she took cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She once had a duck explode that she tried to cook in the oven.

In 1963 her cooking show was the first one on PBS. At Smith College she played basketball because she was 6 foot 2 inches tall. She married Paul Child when World War II ended. They moved to France due to his job where Julia learned French Cooking.

Before learning cooking, she worked as a senior typist at the Research Unit Department of War Information and later became a research assistant with OSS. She held a number of administrative positions at the OSS. The show she appeared in were The French Chef, In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

Manu Buffara

Brazilian chef Manu Buffara believes restaurants are made for people not just workers. She owns a restaurant in Brazil called Manu and in New York. In 2019 she changed her schedule from five days to four and cut down on the number of tables inside the restaurant. She did this to give employees time to spend with their families. She offered employees English lesson and day trips.

She lives in Brazil in Parana and has built urban gardens and installed beehives to help feed local residents. In 2020 she set up Instituo Manu an organization that raises money and supports social change. One group Good Women is dedicated to cooking healthy meals for the city's homeless

As a chef she has campaigned against limited child menus. She believes children should be exposed to all types of food. Her menu focuses on local vegetables, seafood, and lamb. In 2022 she won the Latin America's Best Female Chef Award.

She spent 14 years on her parent's farm and learned to respect growing crops and raising animals. Her grandmother taught her the importance of paying attention to details when cooking. She took courses in hotel management and gastronomy at Centro Europeu in Curbita. Later she received a diploma from International School of Italian Cuisine. She worked as head chef for several restaurant in Brazil before opening her own.

Tarla Dalal

Photo Source: Sysoon

Tarla Dalal taught women in India how to cook simple, easy to follow vegetarian recipes. Her first cookbook The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking has over 200 recipes. The cookbook was geared to women at home or those that worked. There were not many cookbooks for consumers in India. When she married and move to Bombay she bought several cookbooks and began experimenting with recipes.

She tried vegetarian recipes, Thai curry, and Mexican rice dishes. She taught cooking classes from her home in Mumba and the class grew from 5 to 50 or more. A local publishing company call Vakil and Sons published her cookbook in English and Hindu.

In a country that had mostly male professional chefs she came across as a woman that related well to other women. Her work became well known and she became an expert in Indian cooking all over the world. She now has many different cookbooks published by Sanjay Printer and Publishers. Some of her titles are Sandwiches, Breakfast Recipes, Indian Cooking, Cooking With Kids and Simple and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes . Her website Tarla Dalal has many different recipes. and cookbooks. She passed away in November 2013.


Tara Dalal's Cookbooks Taught My Mother and Million of Indian How to Cook Everything by Priya Krishna, Bon Appetit, Augus 2018

Manu Buffura's Metamorphous, 50 Best Stories, Laura Price, September 2022

The Forgotten Chinese Chef Who Taught America to Stir-Fry, by Mayukh Sen, Mother Jones, November 2021

Karen Washington: Its Not a Food Desert, It's Food Apartheid, by Anna Brones, Guernica, May 2018

Ice Women by Barbara Heggie, The New Yorker, 1941

Julia Child's Kitchen National Museum of American History

12 views0 comments


bottom of page