Parabere Forum Wants to Empower Women in Food: A Chat with Maria Canabal : New Worlder

Parabere Forum, an annual conference for women in food, was launched in 2015 in Bilbao, Spain and brought together over 300 participants including chefs, sommeliers, innovators and producers from 26 countries. Featuring presentations, workshops, round table discussions and seminars with some of the brightest female stars in gastronomy, Parabere Forum is organized by a group of international women looking to further discussion and collaboration. Helmed by journalist and president Maria Canabal, the second conference took place last week in Bari, Italy and featured a theme of Entrepreneurship. We caught up with Maria to learn more about the Forum, her thoughts on equality for women in food, and hear how this year’s installment went.


NW: How did the idea for Parabere Forum form?
When you look at food/wine conferences, food/wine congresses or food/wine competitions there is always the same ratio: 100 men, 1 woman. Or 50 men, 1 woman. Or 20 men, 1 woman.  No matter how many men, there is always a token woman. Curators are not interested in balance. They do the program the easy way: they take a guide or a list and hop! And, as far as guides and lists, they are a “boys club,” and can forget to have diversity or balance. The press is even worse. They always communicate (sorry, as a journalist I can’t say that they really inform) about the same male chefs. We need to create awareness about the role of the women in the gastronomic field.


Last year, first year.  Tell us a little bit about how that went.
We had 300 delegates from 26 countries. We had again 300 delegates from 30 countries in 2016. New delegates came from Alaska, Argentina and Austria. The first edition was very important for networking. Since Bilbao, a lot of delegates have developed projects together and this has probably been the real success of the Forum.

What did you learn from last year for this year’s event?

The delegates really want to change things. I realized that Parabere Forum is not two days of the year. It is the whole year. We get alerted (by delegates) when there are any women (or the usual “one woman”) in congresses or even when there are sexist posters for competitions. We are bound to the idea of one team, one dream.


Theme: Entrepreneurship. That’s a broad category. How did you choose this theme?  What does entrepreneurship in food mean, specifically, to you?
We strongly believe in empowering women. Empowering women is a pillar for a better world. If you ask me for one thing, only one thing that can change the world, I would answer, without any hesitation: gender equality. So, the 3-ingredient recipe for empowering women is training, mentoring, and having role models. Women in the food/wine industry miss role models. So, for the 2016 edition, we decided to concentrate on the “third” ingredient – the role models – and bring female entrepreneurs from all over the world – inspiring, successful women – to Bari.



What part of the forum were you most excited about?
I was very excited about Morocco’s Dr. Zoubida Charrouf who empowers women in a country where women’s right are unknown.

*Editorial Note: Dr. Charrouf is largely responsible for the Moroccan campaign to save indigenous argan tree forests from extinction by empowering rural Berber woman to produce the oil (Moroccan Oil) that has become a popular cosmetic serum around the world.


Attending talent from the Americas: Zahie Téllez, Gabrielle Hamilton, Barbara Lynch, Dominique Crenn, Teresa Corção, Roberta Sudbrack. Very, very different women and paths – what do you see as the unifier?
All of them are talented and successful businesswomen. Passionate, they empower other women to be great.


Can you comment on the roles women play in the food space?  Why do you think women in food get so much less love than men in food?
In 2015, we had a panel “Are women in the food/wine industry looking for success?” The conclusion was that the word success doesn’t have the same significance for a woman as it does for a man. Women have “good girl” syndrome. They think that if the do the things correctly everybody will notice. For men, it has to do with ego.

There are more women in food than men, but the glossy press only concentrates on men. The press is not interested in female chefs, producers, and scientists. By default, the public does not know all of these stunning women. I remember for the first edition, I was talking to potential partners about Dominique Crenn. Nobody knew her. She was the first woman to have two Michelin stars in the U.S. (and the only one until last year), she has many prestigious awards, she lectures at Harvard… Suddenly, I started to think, “What if this situation happened with a man. Imagine that in the U.S. there was only one man with two Michelin stars….” Everybody would know him.


What, in your opinion, is a fundamental problem that women in food need to address?
They need to build up a strong network. They need to work in their visibility; very few are active on Twitter. They need to start to promote themselves, to brand themselves.


How is Parabere attempting to change this? Build up a strong network. Promote diversity. Discuss action plans and innovative ideas for creating more balance. We do this during the two-day forum, but we need men to join this journey with us.


How do you see Parebere Forum growing over the next year?
We would like the men to join the conversation. Ideally, Parabere Forum should stop existing one day! In a perfect world, we shouldn’t need Parabere. But we are not in an ideal world, so here we are.

What, do you think, has been the biggest collective or individual achievement of women in food over the past year?

Unfortunately, I do not see any. Michelin France was released on February 1st and there aren’t any new, awarded women. This means that there aren’t any new women who deserve a Michelin star in a big country like France. This is simply not true. Men are still the “main course” of the events in the industry, but the ladies are starting to get organized. Recently, a collective has launched a protest against the food festival Omnivore to balance the participation. Parabere Forum is supporting them. Look at the board of the most prestigious food universities: 100% men. When often more than 50% of the graduates are women. This means that 50% of pupils are not represented.

There is still a lot to do, we are going step by step and hope that very soon gastronomy will reflect the diversity of our society.