Maria Canabal is on the phone from her homebase in Paris. She’s a print journalist, most recently for Monocle, and has just published her eighth book, on the subject of Coquilles St. Jacques. I’m a bit foggy because it’s before eight in the morning in Toronto, and I am far more owl than lark, but Canabal is patient and good humoured about my pre-caffeinated slowness. The occasion for our conversation is the Parabere Forum that Canabal has founded and organized in Bilbao, Spain on March 1st and 2nd. I’ve been tipped off about it from my friend, collaborator, and friend of GFR’s, Terroir Symposium organizer Arlene Stein. Stein, who met Canabal at a MAD event in Copenhagen, is on her way to Bilbao as a delagate.

What separates Parabere from other food events is that the focus is on women and food. Canabal tells me it was the infamous Time Magazine article ‘Gods of Food‘ that ignored women chefs in 2013 that spurred her to organize the forum. She says she tendered the event to a number of cities around Europe, but Bilbao in Northwest Spain’s Basque country was the most enthusiastic to host it. In Bilbao, Calabal explains, they understand how linked food is the culture. When she says “Food is culture,” she is preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned, but I am glad the sentiment is being propagated by dynamic people like her, and that she’s organized a star-studded gathering around that idea.

Parabere Forum screen shot
On the Parabere Forum roster are: Ruth Reichl, Vandana Shiva, Dominique Crenn and more. But, Canabal explains, drawing some high profile speakers was hard: “We were surprised,” she says, “when some women said they couldn’t come because they had kids.” She jokes that one high profile would be delegate told Canabal that she couldn’t come because she “needed a wife”, in other words she didn’t have the support network required to travel for professional reasons. Laughing, Canabal asserts that “a man is never going to say he can’t come to a conference because he has kids.”

But, whatever challenges Calabal has negotiated, or just driven through, to make the Parabere Forum a reality, with speakers from every inhabited continent, she’s stuck to her vision of an event centred on the exchange of ideas. “Parabere is a forum, it is not a food festival. What we really wanted to do is bring together women and men from all over the world, from academics to activists, producers, chefs and sommeliers, in order to give a new perspective on key issues of food,” she says, with all the confidence that this is exactly what will happen. And I believe her.

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.