The fruits of Parabere

An interview with Maria Canabal, the woman who aims at improving gastronomy with women’s vision

The lively final image of Parabere, the forum that

The lively final image of Parabere, the forum that took place in Bilbao on the 1st and 2nd of March to «improve gastronomy with women’s vision». In the centre, dressed in white, there’s curator and organiser Maria Canabal

Over one month after the event, the echo of Parabere, the first edition of a totally female Forum that intends to «improve gastronomy with women’s vision» has not faded yet. Many are still talking about it, the latest being the CNN. We interviewed critic and writer Maria Canabal, creator of the event, to examine in the depth all the rivulets of a theme that has a great future ahead.

When did you first start thinking of the Parabere Forum? What was the sparkle?
I went to a conference with Ban Ki-Moon and I realized that the general secretary of the UN was a feminist. I was impacted by one of his sentences: "The world will never realize 100% of its goals if 50% of its people cannot realize their full potential. When we unleash the power of women we can secure the future for all". I immediately thought about my field, the gastronomic field, and I realized that it was (wrongly) considered as a male-dominated industry. In fact, male-dominated industries are those industries where there are many more males than females, like engineering, architecture, airplane pilots, etc… Everybody talks about gastronomy as a male-dominated industry when, in fact, there are as many women as men. This is just terrible, because it means that nobody knows that women are there. The women are ignored, unknown and lack recognition. But they are there. I decided to support women in this industry in order to make it better.

Vandana Shiva, Indian activist and environmentalist. In 1993 she received the Right Livelihood Award, a sort of alternative Peace Nobel Prize

Vandana Shiva, Indian activist and environmentalist. In 1993 she received the Right Livelihood Award, a sort of alternative Peace Nobel Prize

How easy (hard) was it to organize the first edition?
I must admit no speaker said no to our request. All speakers were enthusiastic and they were seduced by the idea of a Forum with this slogan "Improving Gastronomy with women's vision". We had the most stunning lecturers, from food activist Dr. Vandana Shiva to Hilal Elver, from the United Nations to Roberta Sudbrack from Brazil or Dominique Crenn, the first woman awarded with 2 Michelin stars in the USA. And the most amazing thing were the participants: 300 delegates from 26 countries. Women and men chefs, sommeliers, restaurant managers, farmers, producers, wine makers. Stunning. The most difficult thing was getting sponsors. I hope next year they will understand that Parabere Forum is a new departure. It was a historic meeting. Dr. Vandana Shiva was very clear when she told the audience that Parabere is an example, showing that we can do things differently. The awarded chef Cristina Bowerman wrote a great chronicle on your website and her conclusion was: ‘One advice to large companies: support us, because we are the second wing in the wine and food world’.

Based on what rules did you select the speakers?
We are a forum, not a congress or a festival. Each year we have a theme. In 2015 the theme was "Inspiration". In 2015 Paabere Forum has acknowledged, celebrated and supported the outstanding work of remarkable individuals who are quietly changing the world through gastronomy. This means all speakers had a social project linked to the food. We had speakers from India, Australia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Morocco, Ethiopia, etc.… We were really happy to have African speakers, the forgotten continent in all food events.

What were the most original thoughts/ideas you heard at Parabere?
It is hard to make a resume. We had 20 lectures in these 2 days. The 2 mornings are devoted to lectures. There is a lecture every 30 minutes. The 2 afternoons are interactive, with workshops, round table discussions, debates or one-to-one talks. Vandana Shiva (Food activist, eco-feminist and alternative Peace Nobel Price) was, of course, very inspiring, but so were the farmers from Ethiopia and Australia, working with aboriginals.

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, the first two-starred woman-chef in the United States

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, the first two-starred woman-chef in the United States

Can you recall some important quotes?
"Food is driving NY economy but immigrant women are underrepresented in that economy" (Jessamyn Rodriguez, Hot Bread Kitchen).

"Uniformity is the means of control" (Vandana Shiva, India).

"By 2025 half of the American children could be autistic due to genetically modified food consumption" (Hilal Elver, UN).

Cooking is a feminine art (Leonor Espinosa, Chef from Colombia).

The next Revolution will be eco-emotional (Josep Roca, El Celler de Can Roca).

Parabere Forum is a new departure (Vandana Shiva).

Do you think that people would continue to die of hunger if women got involved? (Hilal Elver, UN).

Parabere Forum is the way to tell to the World that things can be done in a different way (Vandana Shiva).

Gender is a social construction (Anita Lo on how many men and women working in her kitchen at Annisa).

There is enough food for 12 billion people, but we waste 30% (Hilal Elver).

Quality, diversity and resilience are what women bring to the food system (Vandana Shiva).

We can say, for sure, food is a social glue.

Can you sum up the main reasons why the food world should listen more carefully to women's voice?
Empowering women is the basis for a better world. Including gastronomy. Women are 50% in the food field. Deploying women's experience and expertise across all generations and geographies, offers practical discussions on how to overcome barriers and create new horizons and opportunities, as well as broad, rich and surprising debates on important ideas. Parabere Forum also promotes the worldwide advancement of women via business and social networks.

Is there a country model we should look at as for equal opportunities between women and men?
I think Nordic countries are, socially talking, the most advanced countries.

Author and writer Maria Canabal, who lives between Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen

Author and writer Maria Canabal, who lives between Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen

Do you have a particular opinion on Italian women chefs?
We had a lot of Italian delegates at Parabere. Not only chefs. We had wine makers, sommeliers, restaurant managers, food entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs. It was fantastic to have all these Italians who didn’t hesitate to catch a plane to Bilbao, because they considered the subject was important enough to come. They are generous and they are lucky. And they have one of the most amazing terroir in the world.

Can you give us some anticipations on the second edition?
Parabere Forum is the first forum in the world for women in gastronomy, and after this first edition, we have decided to make it annual. In 2016 the forum will once again collect the thoughts of female leaders in the field of gastronomy. The theme will be Entrepreneurship and we would like to make it in Italy!

When you think of Parabere in 10 years’ time, what is your dream?
My dream is that we will no longer need Parabere Forum in order to promote diversity in the food industry.


Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world