Written By: Samantha Ruge
March is Women’s History Month, a time to acknowledge the role of women in history. Women have shaped all industries and especially the culinary, nutrition and health fields. Even a month of celebration falls short of recognizing such immense contributions to the world, but Common Threads wants to commemorate some of the most impactful women in cooking. These inspiring leaders have found their passion in food, and with that, changed the world.
Julia Child (1912-2004)
Julia Child is remembered as one of the most influential women in the cooking world. She is known as the first woman to host her own cooking show. But, Julia Child didn’t always know she wanted to become a chef. Prior to her cooking endeavors, she graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with a degree in history and had plans to become a famous novelist. Her career took many turns and she made mistakes before she eventually enrolled at the highly esteemed culinary school in France, Le Cordon Bleu. Julia Child followed her dreams, loved what she accomplished, and inspired many in the process. Today, her legacy lives on through the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Edna Lewis (1916 – 2006)
Edna Lewis is known for bringing traditional Southern cooking knowledge and appreciation to all of America. She was also one of the first African American women from the south to write a cookbook that did not hide the author’s true name, gender or race. She advocated for African American culture to be more widely understood and embraced, and she did this through her cooking. She released many cookbooks that sparked the celebration of diversity.
A proud proponent of sustainability and the farm to fork movement, Alice Waters has helped educate children and families everywhere about healthy eating. She opened her own restaurant in Berkeley, California in 1971 named Chez Panisse. She then built the Chez Panisse Foundation which allowed her to create the Edible Schoolyard Project, an education program that teaches children about gardening, sustainability and healthy habits.
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
As an African American woman, Shirley Chisholm faced discrimination in all of her life pursuits. She fought against inequality in her career, and became the first African American woman in Congress. She also ran for, and became the second African American in the New York State Legislature and was vital to advocating for the expansion of the Food Stamp Program, which is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) legislation. In 1972, she broke multiple barriers with her candidacy for president of the United States, becoming the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination and first African-American to seek a major party’s nomination. Chisholm is recognized as being one of the greatest champions of justice for minorities and gave a voice to those who had been quieted before. Her legacy lives on as “a woman…who dared to be a catalyst of change.”
Marion Nestle has dedicated her career to wellness and science within the food industry. Nestle held prestigious teaching positions including her time as the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, as well as professor of sociology at NYU, and visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. Nestle is a notable author, with winning awards for six of her books. She is widely recognized as being one of the most knowledgeable in the health sector.
Jessica B. Harris
Jessica B. Harris is an accomplished food historian, college professor, author and journalist who studies the food and foodways of the African Diaspora. Her love for food and history motivated her to write twelve critically acclaimed cookbooks, all documenting and exploring recipes of the African Diaspora. She earned her Ph.D. from NYU, and now shares her knowledge as an English professor at Queens College, CUNY.
Maricel E. Presilla
Maricel E. Presilla is a culinary historian who specializes in Latin American and Spanish cuisine. She has won many awards including Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, and her cookbook The Food of Latin America was named “Cookbook of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation. Her passion also lies in the agriculture industry as president of Gran Cacao, a Latin American chocolate research and marketing company that focuses on chocolate research and the heirloom cacao bean trade.
An author, acclaimed food writer and editor and former restaurant critic of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Ruth Reichl has helped shape America’s food culture. Not only does she have a passion for writing about food, Ms. Reichl has hosted and produced many popular cooking shows like Eating Out Loud, Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, and Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. She is also the former editor of Gourmet magazine.
Common Threads salutes these culinary professionals who have paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their passions and dreams. American history and culture has been shaped by the impact that these women have made and will continue to be important as our nation grows.
**Samantha Ruge is a marketing & communications intern for Common Threads who is studying Agricultural Communication and Food Science at California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo. She graduates in Fall of 2021 and plans to pursue a career in Business Marketing.
ABOUT COMMON THREADS
Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.