Irish Food,  Opinion

Opinion: Unconscious Bias in Irish Food

Everybody has to eat. Breaking bread together, sitting down to eat at a table, it is where I believe community begins. It’s a fundamental part of what makes us human.

As I grow food, prepare meals, and eat them with my family, I’m reminded that this is a process that has been going on for millenia. Growing, preparing, cooking, and eating.

In our society, as in most societies, 71% of families report that the task of meal preparation is carried out by women in Ireland.* In fact in the majority, women make grocery decisions, prepare the food, then serve it up to the family for everyone to enjoy. I’m not saying that this is the way it should be, but it is how it is. Yes, my husband is more than capable of doing all these things, but no, he doesn’t down to the division of labour within our family. He goes out of the home to work, I work from home, and so this cycle of being a homemaker (and work at home mother) continues with us both being willing partners.

I want to emphasise that this arrangement works for us at a family. I am not complaining about my lot. Feeding my family is at the very core of my ethos and I love this task.

These fundamental decisions which are the heart of raising a family (and living) in Ireland are made by women. In Ireland in 2015 the majority of decisions around preparing childrens’ lunchboxes are made by women aged between 35-44 years, and 71% of those surveyed report that meal preparation in the household is done by women, 62% of those surveyed report that a woman is mainly responsible for the grocery shopping in their household.*

Yet, how many female role models are there within the brand / supermarket / public domain? Is it wrong to suggest that women should be spoken to by their peers, by equals, when they make these shopping and cooking decisions?

Do ‘women respond better to good-looking men’, are ‘there are very few female chefs / food experts to choose from’?

InspireFest in Dublin over the Summer opened my eyes to the term ‘Unconscious Bias’ and how this applies to women in technology. This in turn gave me a fresh perspective on that same unconscious bias towards women within the world of food. This unconscious bias towards women in food is interesting because ultimately the majority of food decisions within families are made by women.

Rather than single out a particular brand for criticism, and because I want to return to this subject over the next few weeks (yes I’ve plenty more to say), I would like to set you a challenge:

  • List off the main supermarkets in Ireland today and then see if you can find out who their brand ambassadors are. How many of these are men? Is it an equal split between men and women, or is a particular gender represented more?
  • If you watch an Irish TV chat show where there is an invited guest chef/cook preparing food live on screen, what gender is the person who prepares the food? Also, what gender is the person who eats the resulting food?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject!

*Source Bord Bia PERIscope 2015 “Irish And British Consumers & Their Food Full Report”

I'm an Irish mother to 2 boys, born & bred in Dublin, Ireland. I like to cook simple & fresh food for the family, with the family on a budget.


    • Caitriona Redmond

      I think everybody needs to have input on this topic as it effects us all! I’ve plenty more to say on it over the next few weeks anyway – hopefully it makes people think a little bit more about it.

  • enormous

    Hi Caitríona and thanks for drawing my attention to this over on Twitter.

    I was only thinking about you today and wondering how you manage it all. I am far more interested in getting an insight into your approach than someone who hasn’t had the particular Groundhog Day flavoured joy of doing the weekly grocery shop for 5. Again. I spend over €6,000 per annum on groceries. The fact that you had to womansplain ? your decision to work in the home (I do it too, to myself, to others) undermines the value of that contribution to the economy. It was galling earlier this year, then, to open an in store magazine from one of our leading supermarkets to see a panel of mainly male food champions, encouraging folks to cook at home etc. I’m going to count the (wo)men when I’m shopping tomorrow. Irritatingly also the manager in my local supermarket is always a man while the majority of staff are women. Except the butchers. Plus ca change.

    • Caitriona Redmond

      I remember having the discussion with you at the time and this led, in part, to this series. 😉 I know what you mean about womansplain, am annoyed that I felt I had to explain myself. Completely agree it’s linked to the value that brands and society place on the woman within the home. More to come on “how does she do it” soon but rest assured it’s more like “how much she can get away with ignoring”. LOL

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