9 food icons and what we can learn from them

The BBC Good Food team picks out the female chefs, writers and inspirational figures who’ve taught us how to cook and enjoy food. Read about our heroines and discover how we can all make a difference.

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating our food heroines – the inspirational women who pave the path for positive change in the industry. Whether they inspire more women to cook, feel better about their body image or pursue a dream career, here we’ve picked just a few genius women who promote equality and fairness, and make a difference in their own fields. We also give advice on how we can all make a positive change with some practical pointers.  

Susie Orbach

For…. promoting positive body image

Susie Orbach
Susie Orbach’s seminal 1978 book Fat is a Feminist Issue was a game-changing ‘anti-diet’ guide that framed the discussion around the female body for decades to come. Susie says the book is now more relevant than ever. ‘Today nobody feels comfortable with their body and beauty is the only thing that matters. Social media has built on the fact that we’ve had 40 years of undermining women’s bodies.’ Susie has written dozens of books, hosts a BBC Radio 4 show, In Therapy, works with campaign groups, runs a psychotherapy clinic and has changed the lives of hundreds of women, helping them to rediscover appetite and celebrate their own bodies. She says: ‘The main thing is to learn to eat with pleasure – for some people, eating has become a form of torture.’

Do it yourself: 

Put Susie’s teachings into practice by learning to accept your body shape. It’s essential to pass on positive food messages to children and young adults – read Susie’s family-focused pieces for BBC Good Food to pick up some key tips: 

Five things to never say to your child about food
How to talk to your teenager about food
How to have positive body image during pregnancy
What should we be teaching children about eating?

Follow Susie @psychoanalysis

Monica Galetti

For… making it to the top of the chef world

Monica Galetti
She’s been senior chef at Le Gavroche, a MasterChef judge, a working mum, and launched her own restaurant, Mere, but the unsurpassable Monica Galetti says she never felt the need to prove herself as a woman. ‘I don’t know why gender has to be made into a big deal. For me, it’s about getting a kitchen crew together – I believe that once you have a chef’s jacket on it’s fair game for anyone.’ Monica calls herself a feminist: ‘I’m a huge supporter of women and would love to see more in my kitchen. Feminism is a way of setting an example to your daughter: you can be strong, wear what you want and earn as much as the guy next to you. There’s too much pressure on our little girls to be perfect and slim. Just let them be, let them live – let them eat!’

Do it yourself:

If, like Monica, you’re interested in turning a passion for food into a career, there are lots of ways you can make it a reality. Beyond cheffing, women hold key roles in all kinds of areas of the food industry – our careers articles feature case examples from top professionals and provide advice for landing your dream role, whatever your background or gender. 
How to be a food writer by Marina O’Loughlin
How to be a food stylist by Jennifer Joyce
How to be a recipe writer by Cassie Best

Follow Monica @MGaletti01

Ruby Tandoh

For… telling it like it is 

Ruby Tandoh
Fearlessly outspoken, Ruby, a finalist in 2013’s Bake Off, has tackled food and feminism head on. Her award-winning cookbook, Flavour, advocates eating what you want, when you want it, and her much-tweeted critiques of the ‘clean eating’ movement provoke fierce debate across social media. She says: ‘I think at the moment the prevalence of clean eating is a big concern for women in particular. The framing of diets as some kind of quasi-spiritual, moralistic quest is really damaging for anyone who ever wants to have a normal, healthy relationship with food.’ Ruby says we can all help by giving our money to causes like food banks instead of 'faddy diet movements'. She’s also supportive of rising social media stars who can genuinely make a difference. ‘I’m really pleased that Instagram, and other social media and blogging platforms, have given women – primarily young women – a lot more sway in food circles.’

Do it yourself: 

Self-publishing is a great entry channel into food writing, and a good foundation for this is your own social media channels. They allow you to curate your own messages – whether you want to spread your opinion via Twitter or post pictures of food on Instagram. Our guide to taking the best pictures for social media gives tips on snapping like a pro. 

Follow Ruby @rubytandoh

Carmel McConnell

For… teaching us the value of communities and charity

Carmel McConnell
Charity powerhouse and lifelong activist Carmel founded Magic Breakfast in 2003, which provides breakfasts for over 30,000 vulnerable school children in the UK. It costs only 22p per child but has been proven to improve classroom learning. Carmel witnesses food poverty on a daily basis. ‘Mothers still take on a higher proportion of child-raising than men and are more likely to be missing meals.’ She compares the challenges of running a family budget to those of managing a business. 'Women are the home economists and look after households on a tiny budget, which is a genius talent. We should put up a statue to the working mum who gets things done on no money.' It can sometimes feel overwhelming when thinking about how we can all give back, but Carmel says the important thing is to start with the basics. ‘Make sure you’re as kind to yourself as you can be. You can’t save the world if you haven’t bothered to save yourself. Everything radiates out from that.’

Do it yourself:

If you want to give back but you’re not sure how, read up about food banks in your local community – you’ll find information on different sites about how you can help, whether that’s by donating or volunteering. Our guide to food banks is a good introduction. 

Follow Carmel @MagicCarmel

Valentina Harris

For… being a mentor 

Valentina Harris
Anglo-Italian chef Valentina Harris started her career in the 70s in the tough kitchens of Rome and witnessed ‘bullying and brash machismo’. This meant that later in her career, the work of Les Dames d'Escoffier resonated in a big way. The organisation – named after philanthropic chef Auguste Escoffier, who Valentina calls ‘the original kitchen feminist’ – is a global collective of influential professional women who offer support, mentorship and funding for women in the hospitality industry. Valentina is the founding president of the London chapter. She says while things have improved for women, there’s still some way to go: ‘We get women to believe in themselves, and also to speak out.’

Do it yourself: 

Make like Valentina and hand down your food knowledge and experience, starting by passing on your recipes. Learn how to write clear and accurate recipes, then hand them onto friends, family and the younger generation. 

Follow Valentina @ChefValentina

Nadiya Hussain

For... reminding us about the importance of family 

Since winning Bake Off in 2015, Nadiya has written two cookbooks and a novel, presented her own food and travel show and become widely regarded as a positive role model for young women. Her family – husband Abdal and three children, Musa, Dawud and Maryam – are at the heart of everything she does, and she cites her own food idol as her grandmother. ‘Nani is now 90 years old and goes back and forth to Bangladesh. She is one of the most resilient human beings I’ve ever met. In her rural village, she still cooks on an open fire, and if the wood isn’t dry, then you’re not cooking that day. My nan comes here and thinks we’re all wimps, and I love that about her.’ Thanks to her family-focused recipes and refreshing attitude, Nadiya has a become a bona fide food heroine in her own right. 

Do it yourself:

Feed your flock and run a household like a pro by visiting our family section for inspiration and practical advice. Whether you’re looking for baking recipes to make with kids, tips on how to teach children through cooking, quick midweek meal inspiration or in-depth guides on health issues, we have the all the right resources for you and your brood. 

Follow Nadiya @BegumNadiya

Rosie Birkett

For… her inspirational, seasonal approach to cooking

Good Food contributing editor Rosie is about as passionate about food as you can get. Her attitude to creating flavour-packed recipes, inspired by both her travels and immediate environment, creates jaw-droppingly original results. A keen forager with an all-embracing attitude to new dishes, she takes unparalleled care with the integrity of her ingredients. She also reminds us of the value of shopping locally, discovering what international supermarkets and local producers have to offer. You can find all the beautiful recipes she’s created for BBC Good Food by browsing her author page.  

Do it yourself:

Make like Rosie and eat in season – it’ll help you save money, avoid food waste, be more eco-friendly and eat more sustainably. Our seasonal calendar shows you what to eat when. 

Follow Rosie @RosieFoodie

Madhur Jaffrey

For… introducing us to a whole new world of food

madhur book

Cookery doyenne Madhur Jaffrey needs no introduction. She’s written dozens of recipe books on Indian food, debuting in 1973 with An Invitation to Indian Cooking. She tweaked her recipes to make them suited to the British kitchens of the 70s and 80s, but they were still exotic and hugely exciting. Reams of recipe writers have followed in her footsteps and published books in the UK introducing readers to unfamiliar and exciting cuisines, from British-Iranian Sabrina Ghayour to Ching-He Huang, a TV presenter and author of cookbooks on Chinese food. 

Do it yourself:

Exploring global cuisines is a great way to open doors to whole new ways of cooking and eating. We have hundreds of recipes by way of introduction, influenced by the food of the Caribbean, Japan, Turkey and many others. 

Mary Berry

For… reigniting our love of home baking

One of our all-time favourite cooks, Mary Berry is a household name, cookery legend and part responsible for the huge resurgence in home baking we’ve seen since the incarnation of The Great British Bake Off. She says: ‘What I particularly enjoy about making TV programmes is that I can inspire people to cook. I try to introduce new ingredients, such as the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, which I use in a recipe for salmon with buttered leeks.’

Do it yourself:

Embrace flour power and teach yourself core cooking skills by working on your own home baking. Our cakes and bakes section features hundreds of recipes, from beginner level to advanced, technique videos, product reviews and cookery guides

Who is your food idol? Join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #myfoodidol

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8th Mar, 2018
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