Wednesday, October 31, 2012

170: The Self-Empowered Woman: Daniele Delpeuch

Dear Followers,

Last month the Weinstein company bought the American rights to a French film that is receiving a lot of attention on the other side of the Atlantic. Titled "Les Saveurs du Palais" ("The Tastes of the Palace" in French, but movie titled "Haute Cuisine" in English), it is based on the story of the first female chef to work in the Elysee Palace, and prepare food for French President Francois Mitterand.

Today, Daniele Delpeuch is 70 years old, and enjoying a new sense of recognition for her groundbreaking role as the first female chef to work in the Palace kitchen. Although she is considered to be an authority on the cuisine of the Perigord, she was actually born in Paris. But her father died when she was twelve years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she moved with her mother to live on her grandmother's farm in a 700-year old stone farmhouse.

Her grandmother's way of life introduced her to the value of fresh, hearty, simple French cuisine (2: An Early Sense of Direction), and by the time Delpeuch was 25 years old, she was married and the mother of four children. In 1974, she began working at the farm where her skill in the kitchen attracted foodies and American tourists to visit, eat and stayAfter becoming the supplier to a number of  famous French chefs, she became famous for her foie gras. She worked so hard to revive the near-extinct industry that she became known as "the queen of foie gras" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Soon after she opened the first cooking school in the Perigord, travelled to the US to teach cooking classes, became friends with Julia Child, and even lived for a short while in Paris. By 1980, the French agricultural industry (no doubt impressed by her rich harvest of truffles from the farm's acres of oak trees) awarded her Chevalier du Merite Agricole, its highest honor. She was one of only a handful of women to receive the decoration (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

One of  the chefs who had purchased her foie gras for years recommended her for the job of personal chef for President Mitterand, who had asked his Culture Minister to find someone who could prepare dishes the way his grandmother had. At the time, Delpeuch was divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming), and her children were grown, so she decided to take the chance, move to 55 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, and go to work in the Palace's kitchen (11: Risk Addiction).

The other (all-male) chefs were not welcoming. When the kitchen staff had their first (and only) lunch together they made fun of her, in part because of her "no frills" food and in part because of her gender. They gave her nicknames like "Countess du Barry" (who had been the favorite mistress of King Louis XV), and "Mamie Nova" (a brand of dairy products whose logo is a grandmother) (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

Delpeuch singlemindedly focused all her attention on keeping the President's taste buds happy (10: The Critic Within), but in the process alienated a lot of people. Some even referred to her as "a self-righteous Joan of Arc of the kitchen," because she ignored the nutritionists hired by the Presidents doctor, insisted on buying ingredients from her own suppliers, and often went over budget.

After working for the President for two years, Delpeuch had had enough of her hostile kitchen environment, and resigned. In her words "I turned the page quickly" (14: Selective Disassociation). Her next adventure was to move to the Antarctica, where she worked as a cook for 60 people at a French scientific research station. She was very well paid, but food deliveries were only made once every four months.

Since her departure, she has written a cookbook and is enjoying her new found fame on the big screen. She still bristles at the idea that the French, in general, expect cooking in the home to be done by a woman, but consider male chefs to be "artists of the kitchen." Unfortunately, Palace chefs are still male, but--after all--French women didn't receive the right to vote until 1944.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

169: The Self-Empowered Woman: Elizabeth Warren

Dear Followers,

The picture above was taken on September 5th at this year's Democratic National Convention, when Elizabeth Warren spoke just before Bill Clinton delivered his 48-minute speech. She told the audience that this was the first National Convention she had ever attended, and that she'd never dreamed that she would be the "opening act" for President Clinton (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Elizabeth Warren is receiving a lot of attention these days because she is in the middle of a tight Massachusetts Senatorial campaign against Senator Scott Brown. She hopes to unseat him for the office that was held for so many years by Senator Ted Kennedy.

Warren was actually born in Oklahoma, and during her speech she spoke poignantly of her family's life "on the ragged edges of the middle class." She had three older brothers, and her family never seemed to enjoy any sense of financial security. Her father had been a self-taught pilot who worked as a civilian instructor during World War II, but after the war he lost his life savings to a business partner in a car dealership.

 The bad luck continued and when Elizabeth was twelve years old, her father (who then worked as a janitor) had a heart attack, which changed everything--for the worse--for the entire family. It's a story--much like Starbucks' Howard Schultz's life story--about how one unexpected medical event can have a long-lasting negative ripple effect on an otherwise productive (if struggling) family.

Warren's father was unable to work the same hours he had before the heart attack, so his salary was cut (1: No Paternal Safety Net). When the medical bills were added to his pay cut, the family lost its air-conditioned bronze Oldsmobile, used an old off-white Studebaker instead, and Warren's mother became a telephone catalogue order employee at Sears. Those (and other) sudden lifestyle changes were the only way for them to hold onto the family home.

Warren's family (like most of their community) was deeply religious, and her mother taught Sunday school at the local Methodist Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable).

To this day, Warren remembers the discomfort she felt because her family was so much less financially secure than her classmates'. That sense of financial worry (i.e., the fear of not having enough) left a deep impact on her value system. As one observer noted, " has, in her mind, always been much more than dollar bills. It has been shorthand for security, acceptance, and family stability" (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

Fortunately, Warren managed to channel her energies into scholastic achievement, and she even skipped sixth grade (10: The Critic Within), which made her a year younger then her other classmates. She brought the same sense of discipline and achievement to the debate team, and by the age of 16 had been named "Oklahoma's top high-school debater." Her hard work paid off when she won a full debate-team scholarship to George Washington University.

She only attended GWU for two years before marrying, and transferring (with her husband) to the University of Houston. By 1970 she had graduated with a degree in speech pathology and audiology, and worked with children with disabilities. The next move was to New Jersey (for her husband's work), and a two-year stint as a stay-at-home mom. In 1976 she received a J.D. from Rutgers School of Law, Newark, and then she began to teach law. She and Jim Warren--the parents of Amelia and Alexander--divorced in 1978 (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

In 1980, Elizabeth married Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann, and continued teaching at various universities. She has lived in (or been on the faculty of schools in) Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington, DC (14: Selective Disassociation).

Warren has devoted her professional career to the concept of economic inclusion, and has written several books on the subject as well as serving on a variety of commissions that focus on financial issues (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her commitment to protecting consumers has ruffled feathers among financial institutions and several Republican members of Congress who feel that she is engaging in "class warfare" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). Below is an excerpt from her most famous pro-middle class speech:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own--nobody....You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless--keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

168: The Self-Empowered Woman: The Glass Ceiling

Dear Followers,

Stephanie Coontz recently wrote an article in The New York Times about the "Myth of the Male Decline," which argued that a variety of new "females today have all the power" books (with titles like The Richer Sex and The End of Men) are both misguided and misleading. Below are some of the arguments she makes regarding "the glass ceiling" and financial (i.e., professional) progress for women in America today:

  • Women make up only 17 percent of Congress.
  • Women make up almost 40 percent of full-time management workers, but the median wage of female managers is only 73 percent of what male managers earn.
  • Only 4 percent of the CEOs in Fortune's top 1,000 companies are female.
  • As of this June, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, but for women that number was 38.7 percent
  • The percentage of female electrical engineers doubled in each decade during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But since 1990, it has increased by only a single percentage point, meaning women comprised only 10 percent of the total.
  • Gender segregation in any field means that as occupations gain a higher percentage of female workers the pay for these jobs goes down relative to wages in similarly skilled jobs dominated by males. 
  • Coontz argues that it's important to remember that earning more than a man with less education is not the same as earning as much as an equally educated man.
  • Never-married childless 22 to 30 year old metropolitan area working women (with the same educational credentials as men earn less in every category according to a Boston University study.
  • A 2010 Catalyst study found that female MBAs (on average) were paid $4,600 less than men in starting salaries, and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth throughout their careers even if they remain childless.
  • The wife earns half or more of the family income in only 20 percent of all married-couple families.
  • In 35 percent of marriages the wife earns less than 10 percent.
  • Educationally, women today earn almost 60 percent of college degrees, up from about 30 percent in 1960.
  • Among families in the top 25 percent of earnings distribution, women lead men by 13 percent in graduation rates, but among the lowest-income families women have only a 2 percent advantage.
  • Between 1970 and 1985, women's share of computer and information science degrees rose from 14 percent to 37 percent. But by 2008, women had fallen back to only 18 percent.
  • Women get a smaller payoff then men for earning a high school degree, but a bigger payoff for completing college.
  • A Pew Research Center 2011 poll revealed that 77 percent of Americans now believe that a college education is necessary for a woman to get ahead in life today, but only 68 percent think this is true for men.
  • Today, men account for only 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers, 3 percent of dental assistants and 9 percent of registered nurses.
Looking forward to your comments...