Do a Google search for “food critic” and you’ll get a series of photos that overwhelmingly feature men. Turn on the Food Network, and you’ll see, you guessed it, more men: Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri. In an industry that seems dominated by men, I feel lucky to work with Gail Ciampa, Food Editor at The Providence Journal. She is no stranger to crushing it in male-dominated fields. During one of her rare moments of downtime, I was able to ask her some questions about her background, her female role models, and what she hopes for the future of her industry.
1. What women have most influenced/inspired you?
My maternal grandmother was an energetic, driven woman who left school in the 3rd grade to help her mother with their family and take care of their home in Boston's North End. When I was young, she taught knitting at the industrial school at night to make a little mad money (my grandfather was a longshoreman). She considered herself uneducated and couldn't believe she would be allowed to teach anything. She would walk miles on bad knees because she didn't drive. Nothing kept her down. But it was her ease at talking to everybody that I most marveled at. She was truly interested in everyone and told wonderful stories about her neighbors and family. I think she was our family's journalist and its heart.
2. What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
To live in the moment. I feel like I was always looking for the next stage of things, to get out of school, to get the great job, to grow the perfect family, that I looked past a lot of great moments.
3. What led you to become a part of the media industry?
I loved sports. My father and I were huge fans and watched and attended games of all the major sports in Boston. I wanted a career covering sports. I followed that path right through college where I was sports editor at the BU Daily Free Press, a five day a week paper that had a circulation of 20,000.
It was as a part-time reporter at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette my senior year that I learned how much I loved writing news and feature stories over coverage of sports.
4. Why do you love what you do/what motivates you?
I love telling people's stories. Giving voice to people who don't have one motivates me every day. I especially love telling the stories of immigrants who cook for their church or open a restaurant and bring their traditions into our American melting pot.
5. Are you where you thought you would be now when you were in college?
I have had the career I dreamed of in college being a daily journalist for 38 years. Who could want anything more?
6. How does your formal education tie into what you do now?
It gave me the basis for clear concise writing and the ethics lessons to do my job properly.
7. What are your hopes for the future of your industry?
I hope my industry, journalism, and newspapers, survives. I don't understand why people don't understand the importance of a free press in America. It's part of our democracy and always had been. I hope people realize they have to pay for journalism and do it fast before it's gone.
It's unfortunate that advertising made news gathering affordable for so many years that people began to take it for granted. We need it now more than ever.
Renee Grivois a Rhode Island transplant who came for college and stayed because she adored Providence! She has a background in marketing and currently works for The Providence Journal. She loves writing, eating, and posting pictures of her cat on Instagram!