During the Jim Crow era, blacks couldn’t eat in certain places. When you were out and about, the decision to stop was sometimes a matter of life or death. So you’ve stored food in your car, packed it in shoe boxes, paper bags, or wrapped it in cloth. I’m not claiming to be a scholar, but I believe there are ways that we as cooks can educate through the food we make. For this reason, the co-creators of TDD – Raphael Wright from Urban Plug and Jermond Booze from June Consulting – decided to pack our meals in unintended shoeboxes. Yes, this is a painful part of our history, but it can also serve as a reminder to show how far we have come.
Yeah, and where are we going? How was it actually working with other chefs on this project? I imagine work took on a new meaning during a pandemic, especially given what the hospitality industry has been through over the past year.
At first I really didn’t expect this to be such an emotional journey. But the pandemic has left so many of us people feeling very isolated in the food industry. Some of the participating cooks and farmers were people I hadn’t seen in a year. We’re all just trying to survive here. When we met again for Taste the Diaspora, I was so moved, especially by the stories behind each dish. One of the participants, Hamissi Mamba, is an immigrant from Burundi. He owns an East African restaurant called Make baobab in the new center. For most of the year, the people of his village lived in poverty. But when it was time to harvest peas, they knew there would be plenty of food. That’s why he wanted to contribute petits pois, a spicy pea stew with potatoes and carrots. I would never have known that meaning if it hadn’t been for what made me think about food and this whole Taste the Diaspora experience in a different way.
This is not just about us – you know, Africans or enslaved people. It’s also about the journey food went through, its migration, how it evolved and how we evolved with it.
How has the response been so far? Are there any plans for this project to return?
The response was incredible! I feel like we have people’s attention now, and I don’t want the black food conversation to end when Black History Month is over. I would like to keep going all year round. I’m currently working on more event programming, maybe a celebration for Juneteenth. There is so much to learn about how the African diaspora has influenced American cuisine. I really feel like it’s just beginning.
As a chef, I know that the dream of owning a restaurant usually starts with one hope: to feed people and make them feel good. Once upon a time when you get into business, things get really complicated. In the hospitality industry, what can we do to create more inclusive dining spaces where everyone feels welcome and can enjoy good food together?
This really is as simple as it gets, but start with your neighbor. In Detroit, where nearly 40 percent of the people are food unsafe, you don’t have to own a restaurant to serve the people. If you have access to fresh food, share it. As cooks, we need to remember that 30 percent of the cultivation in this country is wasted. Be careful of food waste at home and at work, and coordinate with local communities to expand access. Make friends with your local farmers and build better, more sustainable food routes. Challenge the status quo. We can reform our food system to better serve us all if our work remains rooted in collective action.
And what do you want your legacy to be?
Pastry chef and author Klancy Miller She recently published her new magazine, For the Culture. In her letter to the editor, she writes: “I did this because black women have shaped the cuisine in the US and in many countries around the world, and our stories about our expertise and our relationships with food are not getting enough attention. “I couldn’t agree more. I want to create a permanent space for black women – especially women, where we can see and celebrate our own beauty.