Food is a central passion of mine. Not only only tremendously enjoy eating, cooking, and growing it, for about seven years I have nurtured a love of learning about food and its relationship with politics, spirituality and faith, history, culture, and the environment. The more I learn about food as a powerful nexus of relationships and movements, the more I discover how much more there is to learn.
As friends, churches, social media, and others shape my ongoing engagement with conversations, education, and movements surrounding racism in the United States (and across the world), the more I learn of the deep connections and roles that racism has historically played and continues to play in our global food system. I recently read Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, an exploration of the culinary history of the American South, particularly as it relates to trans-Atlantic slavery. I also read excerpts from Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel’s Decolonize Your Diet, a cookbook with Mexican-American recipes that also seeks to reclaim a precolonial way of eating. They write:
Cooking a pot of beans from scratch is a revolutionary act that honors both our ancestors and future generations. We have learned from our First Nation (Iroquois) comrades the concept of honoring the seven generations that came before us and the seven generations that come after us. We believe that food is a nexus connecting the generations.
This stuff is gospel. The very systems that seek to exploit both earth and human in the interest of profit and capital gain can be counteracted through the simple but revolutionary acts of growing and consuming food more in tune with community and the earth. But to do so requires time, energy, effort, and civic engagement–things unfortunately inaccessible to many because of the ongoing injustice of our society. So they must be demanded. We must organize our communities to demand that our society create space where the flourishing of all created beings is not only possible but a regular occurrence.
I write this to provide a backdrop for circling back to the topic of race and its relationship to land. As I devour the pages of books like Twitty’s and Calvo and Esquibel’s for the powerful connections and stories they offer, I am also confronted with the reality that I cannot consume this information without reckoning with my own ancestral heritage. The First Nations mentioned by the Decolonize Your Diet authors from whom I draw wisdom and whom I revere as I read are the very people whom parts of my ancestral history are implicated in decades and centuries of acts of subordination, erasure, and violence.
As a white person reading and learning from cultures that are not my own, I must account for the predominantly negative ways in which my white ancestors told a particular story about what it means to be Black, Brown or Indigenous, and whose story made it acceptable in their minds to consequently denigrate the land as they denigrated its peoples. It also means to learn from without appropriating as my own–another tricky line to navigate.
To take account of the role my white skin plays constructively takes a lot of work and a commitment to receiving feedback without shaming myself and those around me.
In the polarity of so much of our political and social conversations in the United States, I think we frequently witness two extremes that keep us from true reconciliation. I often observe as a white person either a kind of colorblindness (“we don’t see color here”) and subsequent refusal to acknowledge past wrongs and a glossing over the real issues with an artificial story of “everything is OK now”; or I observe white folks who feel so ashamed of their connection to the legacies of race and oppression that they stay silenced for fear of saying the wrong thing. I have been both at numerous times during my life (and still struggle to get it right), and still have a long journey ahead of me in doing justice to this work of telling the truth and repairing the damage that has been done. To even reflect on this as I do now would not be possible without communities of faith, friends, and organizations that have pushed me to think and act critically.
What an opportunity for food to play a role in crafting this place where community can be honest and full of abundant life: where the truth can be told, where history can be owned and amended in the present, and where revolution can be ignited around a pot of beans.
Who’s with me? Let’s get our hands dirty.