As a food professional, activist and educator, I deeply understand that caring about food means caring about people.
For the past decade, I’ve worked within a movement that upholds values of “good, clean and fair,” yet remains quiet or woefully tone-deaf in conversations about black and brown people, specifically in regards to racism, state-sanctioned violence, and rising inequality. Whether I’m simmering large vats of Blenheim apricots for award-winning artisan preserves (what up, Mrs. Abby Fisher!), frying up cornmeal-crusted local fish filets for a community dinner, chatting with black youth on how to organize around better school lunches, or helping expand EBT SNAP benefits at farmer’s markets, it’s ultimately about nourishing and uplifting people.
In a very real sense, the future of food is people. And that future looks a lot like me: a young, black woman, hungry for change.
Black people still struggle to put good meals on their tables every day due to the rising costs of food and the lasting impact of supermarket redlining.
This future was also written long ago. You see, my journey to feed others well was paved by black women across food landscape for generations before me From the revered restaurant of the iconic Leah Chase, to the soulful sophistication of Edna Lewis’ cooking, to the field organizing of activist-farmer Fannie Lou Hamer, black women have been central figures in the public development of American cuisine. Beyond these accolades, our country’s has a deeper history still of countless lesser-known black women, enslaved in fields and kitchens, who have fed children not their own and who have long shaped our most celebrated foodways, recipes and sustainable agricultural practices.
Despite this rich history, I often feel alone. Our national good food obsession can curate Instagrams of oozing sandwich stacks higher than black folks’ restaurant wages. Our movement marches against an unknown impact of GMOs, but not to change the known dearth of food spaces with black CEOs.
Without my people up front and counted, the good food movement is deafeningly hollow. I’m tired of good intentions served up on white guilt–driven platters. And whenever I’m met with yet another eye-rolling marketing campaign Columbusing collards, the erasure of black folks is painfully felt. The good food movement hasn’t fully figured out how to effectively center the literal bodies that wash our Heath ceramic dishes or gingerly prepare our $125 tasting menus.
All of this is very hard to swallow. Especially when black people still struggle to put good meals on their tables every day due to the rising costs of food and the lasting impact of supermarket redlining. Black farmers still operate less than a half percent of U.S. farmland, and black people are crushingly excluded from good restaurant jobs. The ownership of food businesses and access to necessary capital are still highly stratified along racial lines. And the winners of profit margin-critical food awards and accolades are still as homogenous as selfies of a Trump-era House GOP.
The time is now to respond to how physical, psychological, and economic violence and neglect disproportionately impact black and brown communities, particularly through our food and farming system. There are specific in ways that food and farming issues intersect with movement building to empower and liberate black people. I cannot separate my identities as a “food person” and a “Black person;” the changing future of food and farming means organizing and feeding folks at this critical intersection.
But, I am not doing this work by my damn self.
The good food movement and its leaders have a social responsibility to acknowledge and address the ways in which systems of oppression marginalize people of color, inside and out of our industry.
Food injustice parallels racial injustice.
The good food movement is not exempt from this crucial work because it appears to “not be our problem.” For instance, when our co-workers in the fields or in kitchens are targeted and face unlawful detentions because of collusion between local police departments and ICE – it’s a food problem. When big food retailers are allowed to rely on cheap, prison labor to produce goods – it’s a food problem. When Black and Native American farmers faced decades of systemic bias in access to capital and credit and land loss from the USDA – it’s a food problem. When young people have to organize non-violent, direct action to raise awareness of BLM in silent/tone-deaf food spaces within their own communities – it’s a food problem. When we simply prioritize well-intentioned ideas around “nutrition and access,” but ignore the resulting racial inequity, gentrification and increased police surveillance in communities of color – it’s a food problem.
The good food movement needs to demonstrate an understanding that food injustice parallels racial injustice. Our Movement for Black Lives can continue to create points of collaboration where food people and food spaces can be included within strategies for our resistance. We already know that people of color disproportionately bear the burden of diet-related illnesses, poverty and a lack of access to fresh, affordable food. These health and socio-economic factors serve as the salt in a festering, deep wound that we must bind and heal through self-determination, equity and right relationship with the land.
And it is young black people who will lead the conversation on changing our food and farming systems.
Our healing will come and bellies will be full when we dismantle corporate control of our food systems by empowering our own communities. This is already happening. We’re teaching our own to launch good food businesses. We’re going back to the land on our terms and with our own seeds. We’re creating space for conversations at the intersection of food and race. We’re telling our own good food stories. We’re unapologetically disrupting white-dominated artisan food industries and leading our own kitchens. We’re directing investments to black-owned food startups and reshaping ownership in our cities to reclaim space and economic equity. We’re starting organizing networks within food spaces to force a power paradigm shift.
My sincere hope lies in the the words of Father Mark Day in his sweet dedication of “40 Acres.” May we continue to “gain a more abundant share in the harvest of our endless toil.” I’ll see you at the table.
This post is part of the Black Futures Month blog series brought to you by The Huffington Post and the Black Lives Matter Network. Each day in February, look for a new post exploring cultural and political issues affecting the Black community and examining the impact it will have going forward. For more Black History Month content, check out Black Voices’ ‘We, Too, Are America’ coverage.
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