Dear Gastronomy community,
We write today in solidarity with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, their families, and those protesting injustice and police brutality across the country who have been met with a brutal, militarized police force. It is with sadness and rage that we add to the growing list of victims David McAtee, a chef and owner of Yaya’s BBQ who was known as “a community pillar,” who “fed the police for free and didn’t charge them nothing,” who was shot and killed by police during protests in Louisville on Monday.
We have heard the calls to action, read the pleas for justice and reform, seen the links to donate and the numbers to call. Perhaps we have opened our wallets or shown up at rallies to demonstrate our support. Perhaps, given the context of an unprecedented global pandemic, we have not been able to do as much as we would like. Perhaps we simply do not know what to do, where to put our time, our resources, and our energy.
We write today to urge our fellow gastronauts to answer these calls, not just today or this week, but in everything that we do as food industry professionals, scholars, and activists.
Let us not forget that the US agricultural industry depends, and has always depended, on the exploitation of marginalized racial minorities. That the hospitality industry was first envisioned in the context of enslavement. That many of Boston’s famed food enterprises, like rum and baked beans, depended on the byproducts of sugar produced by enslaved laborers. That food access is a question of economic justice and housing justice; that food justice efforts must therefore reckon with the fact that racial wealth disparities (the net worth of white Bostonians is on average 31,000 times higher than that of Black Bostonians) are generational and institutional. That land ownership in this country is steeped in anti-Black racist policy, and that Black farmers continue to document discrimination at the local, state, and federal levels of government.
In short, majority white-led food policy, institutions, industries, and even activism, are all involved, directly or indirectly, historically and into the present, in racist systems that perpetrate violence against Black Americans. Those of us with racial privilege, who are over-represented at the highest echelons of our fields, must act, and our action must be ongoing.
As individuals we must:
Read and cite Black scholars, writers, and activists. Across specialties and platforms, we must amplify black voices. In food media and academia alike, we must push back against the dominant discourse that the white experience is the only experience, or the only experience that matters. We must hold ourselves accountable for doing this work every day.
Divest from the prison industrial complex. We must do the research at the personal and institutional level. Are our program funds, our retirement savings, or the investments of our friends and families growing due to the forced labor of disproportionately Black prisoners? Are we aware of all the companies (like Whole Foods) that depend on prison labor? Are we considering this when we “vote with our dollars?”
Restructure and redistribute wealth. This does not mean a one-time donation to a bail fund (still, please donate to a bail fund!). This means monthly payments to organizations who are doing the work to address racial injustice and violence (in its many forms) against Black Americans. This means using our skills, expertise, art, connections, and platform to raise money for these organizations (regardless of the news cycle). This means making the choice to dedicate our free labor to these causes. Please see this piece in Civil Eats for a list of organizations working towards food and land justice for Black Americans.
Vote in the interests of the most disenfranchised members of our community and country. This does not come down to a single election. This involves reading and listening to the voices, stories, experiences, and needs of the most marginalized, and then voting in their interests over our own.
As a community we must:
Make an official statement that the Gastronomy program is 100% in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, shared on all social media platforms including the Gastronomy Facebook page, Instagram, blog, and email. We must join the list of over 100 Boston University organizations pledging their support of the Black Lives Matter movement by partnering with Boston University’s Black Student Union (UMOJA organization) in their fundraiser.
Compile and promote resources that support the Black community and challenge systemic racism in the food industry, including but not limited to books, podcasts, websites, businesses, etc. Encourage students to utilize these resources.
Require that students and faculty address, analyze, and challenge systems of racism in their coursework. Academia in general, and food studies in particular, is overwhelmingly white. It is our duty to:
Address and challenge the predominantly white demographic that this discipline consists of and caters to.
Actively reflect on and challenge ways that systems of racism shape representation, power, and authority in the realm of food.
Acknowledge and analyze how race affects our positionality and privilege in the understanding of foodways in the classroom, in our work, and in any other platform in which we critically discuss food.
Integrate and uplift classwork, readings, speakers, and businesses from communities of color to help dismantle dominant white-centered discourse in academia.
The above are actions that we must all take, individually and collectively, to the degree that we are able, as often as we are able. But this list is not exhaustive. We ask students and faculty to respond with one action item, no matter how small, that they will be taking to address racism in their work and move towards a discourse of anti-racism in food studies.
In the words of Audre Lorde, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We cannot remain silent on these issues and ignore the role of racial oppression in our industry. We who love studying and working with food must recognize the institutional, systematic racism embedded in the field and actively work to undo it.
This program’s solidarity is crucial during this time. Please do not choose silence. Stay connected, stay engaged, and stay safe.
Elizabeth Weiler and Danielle Jacques are candidates for the MLA in Gastronomy