This month, Toronto will host two awesome women-focused food events: The Dinner Party, hosted by The Drake, and Chatelaine’s The Big Dish, a day-long gathering featuring incredible female talent in the Canadian hospitality industry.
In recent years, women-focused groups and events for food- and drink-obsessives have been popping up across the country, including the Pink Boots Society (for lady beer lovers, with chapters in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto) and Women Who Whiskey (a women-only whiskey appreciation group with chapters in Toronto and Waterloo). And in 2015, Jen Agg, Toronto restaurateur and author of I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, spearheaded an event called Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time in response to allegations of “rampant” and “unrelenting” sexual harassment and abuse at a trendy downtown Toronto restaurant.
While some of these initiatives address sexism and harassment head on, others are creating safe and inclusive places for women to celebrate passions that are traditionally male-dominated. But there’s still more work to be done.
FLARE spoke to 10 diverse women in hospitality to learn more about their experiences with sexism and racism in bars and kitchens across Canada—and what they’re doing to help fellow female colleagues thrive. Their stories range from blatant examples of sexism to less overt instances, but they have one thing in common: these are all women who love their work and won’t let industry misogyny stop them.
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“When I’m one of 100 women at a beer event where there are 4,000 guys, I don’t feel safe.” —Ren Navarro, co-founder of the Society for Beer Drinking Ladies and sales representative for Redline Brewhouse in Kitchener/Barrie, Ont.
“Do you really like drinking beer?” is a question that Ren Navarro would often get asked in her first job in craft beer. It was the early days of the industry and it was rare to see women working at breweries, let alone women of colour leading tours and pouring samples.
“Male reps weren’t getting asked that,” Navarro says. “It’s a silly question. You don’t go into a bank and start asking math questions.”
Previously, Navarro worked in finance and insurance but made the switch to work in beer approximately five years ago. In that time, she’s seen the industry slowly reflect a more diverse population but thinks there’s still huge room for improvement—especially when it comes to including Black people and women. As one of the founders of the Society for Beer Drinking Ladies, a monthly women-only craft beer event in Toronto, she has seen a real appetite for women-focused beer events, with the biggest SOBDL gathering drawing well over 1,000 people. Still, some men don’t get it.
“SOBDL still gets backlash from guys who are like, ‘Why do you need these events?’ I have to explain that when I’m one of 100 women at a beer event where there are 4,000 guys, I don’t feel safe. This is especially true as a woman of colour and a queer woman.”
Navarro was featured on the cover for Now Magazine’s beer issue earlier this year. Inside the Toronto weekly, she was photographed wearing a T-shirt saying “Black People Love Beer.” It’s a point that’s close to her. While there are more female-led breweries in Canada, especially on the West Coast, it is people of colour that are often left unseen in the craft beer world.
“There are bigger problems out there, I know. President 45 is steering us to mass destruction, but at the same time, this is the industry that I love,” she says. “These people in beer are my peers and my family. It’s just like, Why aren’t there more of me here?”