Women control most household food purchasing decisions but almost none of the industry’s production decisions. Meanwhile, men have had a (very!) long run and made a mess of things. If we’re going to disrupt the food system, we need to put women in charge.
The world we live in is built by men, for men. And that includes the food we eat. Ironically, women across the world manage the vast majority of household grocery spending and are responsible for meal planning and meeting the nutrition needs of children and their families. Yet we control almost none of the policy and production decisions around food.
This International Women’s Day (IWD), I’m asking: why aren’t more women in charge of how food is grown and sold?
Every IWD, we’re supposed to celebrate women. This is a tall order because despite some advances over the past few decades, it’s very much still a man’s world out there.
It’s 2023 and women still make less money than men in pretty much every job and in almost every country. Our bodies are policed. We’re at risk of sexual violence on a daily basis (the WHO describes this as devastatingly pervasive). There are entire hate groups dedicated to taking away our freedoms. In the few countries where we control our reproductive rights, they are getting taken away.
Soon, things may take a turn for the worse as we enter what I like to call the ‘Age of Artificiality’, an age where artificial intelligence will make decisions on our behalf that will govern our lives.
Silicon Valley titans (most of whom are white and male) are currently hosting press conferences and appearing on panels and getting interviewed all over the interwebs about how terribly exciting it all is. I’m less enthused.
A world where we leverage AI to tell us what to eat, what to manufacture, how to work and how to think is a world where women will continue to suffer. How do I know that? Because most AI-trained robots out there are already biased against women. AI algorithms are objectifying women’s bodies, refusing to hire women, and generally putting our lives at risk.
It’’s hard for women to change any of this because women are woefully underrepresented at all levels of political decision-making worldwide and women make up less than 30% of parliament in the majority of the world. This also helps explain why universal daycare, free education and guaranteed maternity leave are still not mainstream across the planet. Even the world’s richest country does not offer these basic rights to its female population.
In addition, wealthy countries are grappling with population decline. Across Europe, North America, China, Australia, UK, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, women are choosing to have fewer or no kids. This trend is playing out all over the planet. Hundreds of millions of women in Asia, Africa and Latin America will attain middle-class lifestyles as these regions get more financially prosperous, and they will have fewer children.
Why? Because as women get more educated and get their own income, they are increasingly deciding not to take the (pretty shitty!) motherhood deal that society is offering (no time for self-care, the dreaded second shift, lower earnings aka the motherhood penalty, limited career advancement, higher rates of divorce (note: this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’d argue this is not exactly every young woman’s dream). Once they have freedom of movement and control over their reproductive rights, women don’t want to be beholden to domesticity. Neither do men. That’s why women do more grocery shopping and food preparation than men in the US and all over the world. In fact, 80% of US women say they are the primary grocery shopper, and 71% say they shop and prepare meals.
Here’s more data that makes clear why public investment in human health and nutrition is so low. Women tend to be in charge of family and child nutrition– responsible for food choices, menu planning and meal preparation. Men are not dealing with the reality of these topics on a daily basis and therefore don’t prioritize it at a policy level.
And yet, most of the food products we eat and the decisions made about our food and agricultural systems are controlled by men.
According to a 2021 study, more than two-thirds of food systems leaders (execs at CPG/Big Food companies like Coca-Cola and Danone) are men; further, women in food jobs get paid up to 30% less than their male counterparts. This is despite the fact that women control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending, making up 85% of all consumer spending in the US alone.
And may I just say, men have done a pretty crappy job on the whole of keeping people healthy and ensuring our food systems are as safe, nutritious and sustainable as they can be.
Rich countries are in the midst of a major public health crisis particularly when it comes to what researchers call lifestyle-related diseases. We are facing soaring rates of obesity (36% of the population in US, 17-20% in Europe, 8% in Asia), heart disease (the leading cause of death globally) and diabetes (now affecting 422 million people worldwide).
It doesn’t help that thanks to a major medical research gap that excludes women from clinical trials all too often, we are subject to drug and nutrition protocols designed for male bodies.
And then there’s the pesky climate problem. Amidst a worsening climate crisis with extreme weather events that are causing havoc with our global food supply chains, farmers everywhere (another male-dominated industry) are grappling with more frequent heat waves, drought, loss of arable land, deforestation-linked and loss of biodiversity-related complications and water scarcity. We’re overly dependent on methane-emitting and carbon-heavy foods like beef and dairy products, which are pushing our food systems to the brink and making us sick.
The food tech industry is working to find solutions to all these issues as we at Green Queen report every day. But who’s in charge of the change?
NOT ENOUGH WOMEN, that’s who!
This has to change.