By: Jessica Karr, Slow Food San Francisco Member
Food justice is social justice.
Just digest that for a minute. Reflect on all of the ways in which food justice can support leadership of marginalized people.
The summit on Saturday May 19, hosted by Museum of African Diaspora featuring chef-in-residence Bryant Terry, dove into the topics to understand injustices in the food system and how to take action.
Decolonize Your Diet
“The recovery of the people is tied to the recovery of food, since food itself is medicine, not only for the body, but for the soul, and for the spiritual connection.” – Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe)
Who knew that traditional diets developed by our ancestors were actually healthier for us than today’s American diet? In the fascinating keynote address given by Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel, authors of the award-winning Decolonize Your Diet, we explored the connections between food, colonization, and health. The authors noticed a paradox while researching diet and cancer: Latinx immigrants in the US that learned English were more at risk for cancer than those who didn’t learn English (note: Latinx is a gender-neutral term to reference those of Latin American origin). When they dove deeper, they found that learning English correlated with adopting an American diet, while those that continued to speak their native language remained more immersed in their native diet as well, often keeping them healthier and rarely experiencing cancer. For example, there’s good evidence that beans, a staple of the Mexican diet as well as many other traditional diets, actually help to fight cancer rather than cause it. Other staples embedded in the Latinx diets are corn tortillas, fruits, and squash. Not only do the ingredients matter, but also the way that they’re grown and processed. In the past, corn was grown in Mexico not as a monocrop but alongside squash and beans. The crop design worked such that each plant had a function: the squash leaves provided ground cover and shade while legumes (beans) fix nitrogen in the soil. The process of growing food also allows a deeper connection with the land and the soil. Not only did European colonization take land from indigenous people, and shift the agricultural landscape; they also cut off water supplies, where people who had grown their own food before became dependent on the new food system. They created the perception that the colonized diet is associated with wealth, while traditional diets are associated with poverty. That is why, ironically, moving up in socioeconomic classes can actually worsen diets (up until you’re able to afford Farm to Table dinners, which is yet another topic).
Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel have done great work in researching how to move back to traditional ingredients. Their book Decolonize Your Diet contains more information and healthful recipes. Read more about the book here!
Cultural Appropriation… Now What?
Then, we got to watch Racist Sandwich Podcast live, in a discussion on cultural appropriation between Soleil Ho (co-host of the Racist Sandwich) and Tunde Wey (a Nigerian chef – read about his radical New Orleans pop-up: a racial wealth redistribution experiment). Are you a white person wondering whether it’s appropriation when you cook curry at home? Look deeper.
The answer lies somewhere in looking at power: who benefits and at whose historical (or present) expense? Is money being made off of a culture that you are not a part of, a group who has been disadvantaged? There’s also the storytelling. Is it coming from an authentic place, or has it been abstracted and lost its essence?
Racial inequality in the US persists today, evidenced by higher infant and maternal mortality rates in black children and women, mass incarceration of black men, and wage gaps between white people and people of color. But fixing the gaps doesn’t mean just offering more money and opportunity. It means that equal opportunity also means equal fear. It means recognizing consequences of actions.
Regarding appropriation, there is no prescription. For the white chef managing a “cultural” restaurant, a need for reflection is crucial. Paying tribute may be necessary, and is not straightforward. For the “fusion” chefs mixing their traditional culture together with a different style, think about how it can be assimilation rather than fusion (read more here).
Our Catalyst, Our Commitment
We ended this moving summit with an audience engagement led by Shakirah Simley to share out what we learned and what we can do moving forward. Collectively, many of us shared that food is not just abstract art. For many people, food is a means of staying alive. Globally, people have to work hard just to be able to eat, and many people serve in the agriculture and food industry as a means to earn a living. Food is political, personal, and a powerful vehicle for change. It’s important to become more aware of who and what your dollar is supporting.
An article was published in the Huffington post recently titled “‘Farm to Table’ Shouldn’t Only Be For Rich White People.” In the Slow Food movement, we often celebrate local food. Growing food organically (or, regeneratively) often adds significantly to the price tag, rendering the food economically inaccessible. It also leaves little room to properly recognize the work that brings the food to the table, whose margins often get squeezed despite the high price tag. There’s the farmers, the dishwashers, the transportation and logistics. We must commit to recognize all of the work, not just the most visible portions. We must commit to not only being white allies, but being accomplices. It’s about standing up for what’s right when it isn’t easy or comfortable, such as when a white woman decided to stand next to (as a witness to their innocence) two men who were having the cops called on them by a white woman for using a charcoal grill during an innocent Sunday lakeside barbecue. We must recognize racially-charged acts
and be ready to do work for positive change. And, we must commit to stepping down when it means giving opportunity to someone whose history is colored with marginalization.
Please join the Museum of African Diaspora on June 12 for a dinner curated by chef-in-residence Bryant Terry featuring chef Tanya Holland. More information here.
Want to take action now? Eat/drink/shop here:
Reem’s California: 3301 E 12th St #133, Oakland, CA 94601
Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas: 23682 Clawiter Rd, Hayward, CA 94545
Hasta Muerte Coffee: 2701 Fruitvale Ave, Oakland, CA 94601
Red Bay Coffee: 3098 E 10th St, Fruitvale, Oakland, CA 94601
Mandela MarketPlace: 1364 7th St, Oakland, CA 94607
La Cocina’s Ferry Building Marketplace: One Ferry Building, K5, San Francisco, CA 94105