Use This Database to Connect with Underrepresented Food Professionals

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Editor’s note: We’re chronicling how tech is changing the way we eat and drink as we lead up to this fall’s Food Loves Tech. Our annual deep dive into appropriate food and ag technologies returns to Industry City on November 2–3, 2018 and you can get $20 off the regular admission price while our early bird special lasts.

“Build a longer table, not a higher fence” is the call to action of Equity At The Table (EATT), a new database for food industry professionals that focuses on women, non-binary individuals, LGBTQ and people of color. Founded by author and activist, Julia Turshen, EATT offers a pragmatic solution to the long-standing problem of racial and gender discrimination in the food industry where Caucasian cisgender men rank highest in professional kitchens, occupy senior positions behind news desks and are given priority on the glossy pages of food magazines.

Turshen launched EATT in early April with insight from an advisory board including Kimberly Chou Tsun An, Hawa Hassan, Krystal Mack, Klancy Miller, Shakirah Simley and Nicole Taylor—all women of color. Turshen self-funded the initial cost of building the platform (designed by Kate Caprari of Three Square Design) and continues to maintain it, manually inputting new members. There are currently 450 members (including me) and it takes a few minutes to join: upload a headshot, select job categories and add social media handles. Membership is free but donations are accepted on their Patreon page to cover ongoing web hosting costs and compensating EATT’s social media manager, Meme Wilson.

The directory is divided into four sections: “Food professionals” is for queer women, non-binary and/or people of color, “Resources for food professionals” is open to all women and non-binary people and offers services for food industry professionals like bookkeepers, lawyers, accountants and agents. “Location” pinpoint members in certain global regions and “Identification” lists twelve different combinations of ethnicity, race, sexuality and disability. A search engine below finds members by name. People can search any combination of profession, location, service and identification, which eliminates the excuse of people who assign articles, hire staff and curate panels but “can’t find” writers of color, queer chefs or female bartenders.

Photos of members populate the homepage by randmonization instead of chronological or alphabetical order, an intentional feature that’s “in the spirit of equity,” Turshen tells me over email. A quick perusal of EATT’s database shows off the broad range of skill that food professionals bring to the table. This is not an easy industry to earn a livable income and many are self-employed freelancers who work on contract without access to healthcare benefits, pension funds and 401ks. The same industry that encourages one to pursue one’s passion also runs on opaque labor practices that can be isolating at best and exploitative at worst. Being able to invest in club memberships or attend networking conferences is a luxury many cannot afford.

EATT brings functionality and transparency to an otherwise clunky food system and it is as much about building a strong community as it is about being a useful database. “As a community, I hope the people who are part of EATT use it to connect with each other and get to know each other and even work together,” says Turshen. “It’s a tool for any and all.”