Dear Fellow White People: Let’s Talk Food

Food justice is racial justice. Without access to quality food, Black people are more likely to suffer negative consequences of being in a food desert, of not having access to quality, healthy food. These negative consequences in part lead to disparate health outcomes in, say, a global pandemic….

Moreover, have you ever stopped to think about the whiteness of American food culture? If a Black chef or food writer wants to showcase African food there is always a concern about appealing to “mainstream” audiences. Here, “mainstream” just means “white”. Mainstream food is white food. The same applies to all other ethnic cuisines. They have to be dumbed down for (white) American audiences. People of color in the food industry often have to showcare their ethnic “specialties” instead of being able to focus on whatever fancies them like their white counterparts.

And yet, when you stop to think about what it means for white Americans to have a food culture unique to America…it often just involves tracing food back to the slaves who cooked for slave owners in the south. There is little original to white folks in America that wasn’t taken/stolen from other cultures.

And when we do adopt a food culture, we usually don’t take the time to understand the culture in its full context, and we end up bastardizing the food. Which is not to say we have to only eat “authentic” food (whatever that means). It just means that it’s important to understand the culture you are sharing from in order to be respectful and not appropriative.

In white America it’s been trendy to grow local and eat local, which is not only tasty but sustainable and healthy. Food justice is about letting Black communities have the same opportunities to grow and eat local. To have access to local ingredients. To have access to affordable grocery stores within walking distance or available via public transportation. But so often there are disparities in health, nutrition, and wealth such that these options are not available to Black communities.

These disparities are structural. Food justice is about addressing them. It’s about making sure everyone has access to a sustainable, healthy food system that is not just empty calories and fast food.

Food justice is also about representation in the food world. It’s about supporting black-owned restaurants, farms, and grocery stores. It’s about having less naive white people getting TV shows or media presence engaging in cross-cultural appropriation. It’s about equal pay in the food world, for both women and racial minorities.

I recommend educating yourself about food justice. There is so much here. I am still learning myself. Look up black-owned businesses in your city and support them. The best way for us white folks to show up is with our wallets. Listen. Then keep listening some more.

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