It’s midway into my final quarter as a student and as my free time peters away I am becoming ever present of the new chapter in my life. But before I can face any of the challenges ahead of me, I am in a scramble to work events and build the 90 hours of industry experience needed to graduate.
Those in Portland Oregon may have heard of the Eat Mobile event at OMSI last night where a number of the best food carts from around the Portland area came to compete in a food festival for the masses. My school assisted OMSI in staffing the event, promoting the culinary school with a booth of our own, and providing labor for twenty some odd food carts. This was also our chance to network within the industry or even get picked up for a job as past students have at this event.
Initially I was one of the four students set to work at the school booth, however others selected for food carts weren’t all needed and gradually made there way back. Things eventually picked up again and rather than working at the school booth I was reassigned to another cart being slammed by the rush of the general admission opening and missing a student who was on an ice run for OMSI at the time. The tasks were rather simple, arranging and filling a hundred or so samples of their pulled pork and meatballs onto full sheet pans as fast as we could. After the other teammate returned production was a little smoother and the five of us (the two owners, two fellow classmates, and myself) had more of a chance to talk. And as the night progressed things seemed to be going pretty good and I explained to the owners that we were culinary students looking to get into the food industry.
And this is where the dynamic changed. The owners, who seemed pretty chill, started to talk business and ask questions about our majors and how long we had left. However, it became quickly apparent that they weren’t interested in anything about me or the fact that of the three of us I was the one that was currently unemployed, looking for work, and the only one graduating this term instead of a few years down the line. They also very obviously avoided conversation and even eye contact with me. My male teammates on the other hand were treated like a godsend and both were offered two different jobs at the food cart they owned and the restaurant they worked in.
“Well maybe they did something different in the beginning before you got there, you were added on later after all,” is what I’m sure someone reading this may think. Since this was the line of reasoning I had heard from a few other students when I had told them at the end of the night. While that is always a possibility, I find it extremely doubtful. Both the station and food were already prepared and just needed final touches like hanging a sign or warming up the food. But the damning evidence of the sexist environment I was placed in came wasn’t that I was called “honey” or “sweetie” or “sugar” instead of my name by both owners and a teammate or the multiple sexual innuendoes to me from one of the owners; but from when the food ran out and cleanup began. One of the guys who was offered a job and a owner got very buddy-buddy with one another and stepped aside as we cleaned up. I walked past the two of them a few times while breaking own the station only to overhear their detailed conversation of women they’ve slept with and compared pictures of said women’s breasts and whatnot kept on their phones.
Needless to say I was both horrified and disgusted by the sheer objectification of women shown by men whom I as otherwise assumed to be professional. Nor did it help when they left to wander the event for an OMSI Volunteer worker in short shorts and spandex shorts underneath that or that I was hit on and cornered by the same classmate who dominated me height and weight under the then drunken pretext of “wanting to talk pidgin with me.” Luckily, my other teammate and his girlfriend who are both my friends and future roommates got him to back off.
After thinking about some of the events that transpired last night, I’m glad they didn’t offer me a job. Although their food was hands down my favorite savory dishes of the night I can’t allow myself to work in a sexist environment like that again. And I can only imagine what else could have happened if it wasn’t for my friends. I am now more mindful than ever that the industry I plan to enter isn’t just challenging because of the hours or labor intensive work, but also the largely male bias and sexist organization within it. I may be a minority because of my sex or what have you but I won’t give up.