I have been a longtime fan of Edible and all the work they do. The food writing they publish is often some of my favorite, from the topics they cover to the style of it all. I love the fact that they’ve created a community of F&B professionals to gather and share their knowledge and help raise each other up in the industry with The Collective, which I’m a member of. Their events are often well-curated, interesting, and fun. Most everything they do is smart and thoughtful. So, while I’d never been to their annual celebration of cocktail known as Good Spirits, I was excited to attend this year’s event which took place on March 8th. International Women’s Day. With Women’s Day in mind, the event was branded as “Celebrating the Women of the Food & Drinks World” which you know I’m all about!
I was excited to see lots of lady power pushing booze and knew I had to make it in time for the “Spirited Women and Their Role in the Food and Beverage Industry” panel, which was advertised to start at 6:30pm, although it wasn’t until closer to 7 that it actually began. I don’t know if I took notice of the people listed for this panel before I arrived, but I sat up front and saw my former boss, Liz Neumark was there. She clearly wasn’t sure why she recognized me, which was fun. As someone who was regularly shafted from Captaining gigs because those with seniority tended to be men, I found her presence there ironic. Now, to Liz’s credit, she’s built a company that’s successful enough that she doesn’t have to be involved in the day-to-day decisions of who is going out on which jobs. But, that doesn’t help feeling forgotten when she gets to sit on stage and retell her stories of starting out. Women were essentially blacklisted from the business of catering (and like every other business as well) when she was looking for freelance work to support her photography dreams. She decided to start her own company that would only hire women, and one day she received a phone call from a frantic client about the bartender being female— “What would her guests think?!” Of course, depending on who gets to hear this story, the narrative is either used to explain when men became added to the roster or that they sure showed them girl power. I will let you guess which framework was used at this event.
The rest of the panel was very cool, though. And I’m glad I was there for it. Our moderator was Louise Newsome, who’s disturbingly the only female member of the New York Distillers Guild is a co-owner of Olde York Farm Distillery. And the rest of the panel included Bridget Firtle, Lacy Hawkins, Julia Ritz Toffoli, Lynnette Marrero & Ivy Mix. While the ages and sectors were varied, the color white had a very strong showing, which was subtly touched upon when Lacy Hawkins referenced the recent outcry from Frances McDormand’s Oscar Speech, for an “inclusion rider” which would guarantee that women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ have a presence in order to participate in something. There were a lot of differing opinions on the questions asked by our moderator. While all agreed there are certainly different challenges that women face in the industry—to be asked that question can create a sense of otherness which is not the point of what they do. The desire for recognition and equal treatment is something worth fighting for. This is an industry that women have always been a part of, but they haven’t always been seen. All of the business owners on the panel started their companies because no one else had yet—be it a female-run Rum company based off of NY Bootleggers, a club full of women who enjoy a good whiskey or a competition for female bartenders to be able to participate in and be celebrated. When asked why Julia focused on whiskey her simple response was that she likes it. The final point was made that everyone, as a consumer, has an opportunity to vote with their wallets at least three times a day. You can choose to buy products made by men, women, corporations, local farmers or any myriad of other suppliers.
With that in mind, I decided to scope out the rest of the event. I had been eager to secure a spot for the panel on the top floor, and so I started my evening in that space, which included about 15 food and drink vendors that were significantly staffed by women. Of course, I only mention that as the atmosphere changed quite a bit as you went into the main spaces on the 2nd floor. Sadly, as a newbie to this event, I had no idea what to expect or best tactic for the venue which meant that I missed out on several of the food options by the time I got to them. I also noticed a great deal more testosterone on the second floor—both with attendees who surely couldn’t care less about a panel of women discussing their experiences in the F&B industry, but also with the representatives of the vendors that were providing tastings for the event. Now, I certainly wouldn’t expect 100% of the people slinging their goods to be female, but it surely makes a statement when you have a food or drink company show up to an event that’s billed as celebrating women in the industry and you’re not able to provide a single woman to be a brand ambassador for you. That’s not a great feeling for a fellow female in the biz.
It became clear rather quickly that this was an event that is not nearly as industry heavy in attendees as most of the other Edible events that I’ve been to. There seemed to be a pretty good selection of food and drinks available, and the crowd seemed to be really into the whole thing, but many of them were people who just love a good open bar. Sadly, the biggest crowd was standing in front of a booth that was staffed by three men. So, after I finally got a couple of nibbles in what I dubbed “the captain’s room” (but is actually called the Commissioner's Bar), made some connects with a couple of awesome ladies, and caught a little of the Speed Rack competitions where the average Joe and Jane were just regularly slaughtered by the pros, I was ready to head home.
In the end, I’m glad I went. Because now I know I don’t have to go again—at least not in the near future. I still love Edible and will continue to support their publications and their events and I’m still thrilled to be a part of The Collective, but I’ve been to so many food and drink festivals that I don’t need to attend those that are more for the masses—which I realize makes me sound like a real snob, but whatever. I’m gonna go support a female wine-pourer right now, named Adrienne. Cheers, Chicas!