Ms. Magazine: How does your feminist identity influence the way you think about food/food politics?
Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper: I am always looking through the lenses of black feminism, critical race feminism and decolonial feminist world-systems analysis when I try to understand food in every aspect. I simply cannot look at food as an “everyday mundane object.” I understand the meanings applied to food as something that represents an entire culture’s ideologies around everything. For example, food can tell me a society’s expectations about sexuality, gender roles, racial hierarchies of power and ability.
Ms. Magazine: Why should people consider food a feminist issue?
Dr. Harper: Oh, that’s a great one. First, I think feminism is really broad, so I’m coming from the perspectives of black feminism and decolonial feminist world-systems analysis. So, that is how I define “my” feminisms, for now at least. I think one cannot understand structural oppression within the food system without understanding how structural sexism shapes one’s relationship within the food system, from seed to plate. For example, what does it mean that tomatoes coming out of Mexico since NAFTA have come to North Americans “cheaply” due to the exploitation of indigenous Mexican women and the myth that indigenous women are “more tolerant” of harsh chemicals and sun exposure than light-skinned mestizas who are usually found working in the tomato packing plants? Check out Deborah Barndt’s work on that."
— Avital Norman Nathman, “The Femisphere: Foodies and Food Politics,” Ms. Magazine 3/12/13
Since 2009, Mr. Huang has built a career as an author and a television personality based on his brash cultural mashups and his take-no-prisoners critiques of everyone and everything.
He has berated fellow chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and David Chang as exploiters and sellouts. On his online recaps, he has attacked the HBO show “Girls” as elitist. He has excoriated Guy Fieri as a cruel joke, and he pontificates on divisive topics like interracial dating and shark fin soup.
He criticized Mr. Samuelsson for exploiting the African-American experience at the Red Rooster in an article he wrote for The New York Observer. He criticized Mr. Chang for debasing his food for the Western palate, and took on Western chefs for cooking ethnic food.
Mr. Huang went fishing with Tom Colicchio and banged around Brooklyn with Anthony Bourdain. He ignited Twitter wars with Food Network stars like Anne Burrell, calling her “fish filet.” He is giving a TED Talk this year on the shifting waltz between authenticity and ethnicity.
“I want to prove you don’t need to have academic syntax to be intelligent,” he said.
Mr. Huang’s appeal is not only in what he says, but how he says it — a profane concatenation of Mandarin and African-American vernacular English, spiced with allusions to Jonathan Swift, Charles Barkley and Cam’ron."
Joshua David Stein, “Chef Who Refuses To Be Defined By His Wok,” NYT.com 1/23/13
Hideous headline for otherwise interesting profile on chef Eddie Huang.
I had to release this anecdote from my spirit after reading so many posts about how terribly fast food workers are treated:
As most of you already know, I’m a bookkeeper/accountant for a landscaping company. My boss recently hired a new group of manual laborers to replace the group that previously worked @ his father’s farm. Yesterday, he summoned me to the conference room, where he said the following:
“Sean, I know that you try to mail the farmers’ paychecks as early as possible so that they’ll arrive on Friday, but I need you to stop doing that. Send them late every once in a while, maybe every other week, so that they’ll arrive on Monday or Tuesday. I wanna keep them on their toes, because I spoiled the last group, and they got too comfortable.”
Sometimes, when people hit me with such bold, blatant fuckery, I get too stunned to muster up a suitable response. This was not one of those times.
“That’s a slave-master tactic,” I replied, “and I refuse to comply with it. It’s one thing to withhold a paycheck because the employee isn’t doing her or her job; it’s another to withhold it as a tool of psychological manipulation. As long as the farmers do their jobs, I’m gonna mail their paychecks on time.”
“Okay,” he mumbled. “Maybe there should be another plan.”
“THERE IS NO OTHER PLAN. They do the work; they get their money.”
I immediately returned to my office and closed the door.
It might be embarrassing for Lupe Pintos to remove the offensive photos from their website, although I would hope that they had at least a few more photos from last year without offensive costumes that they could use to promote the event. Probably the most difficult part would be writing a few sentences to go on the site that explained why the photos were taken down and what kind of costumes aren’t really a laugh. It would take a little footwork to go around town again and switch the posters for ones that don’t encourage “Mexicanos” as a costume. It definitely wouldn’t be the path of least resistance.
All of these simple actions, however, would cement Lupe Pintos’ reputation as a retailer that cares not just about selling Mexican products, but about Mexican culture and Mexican people and is willing to stand beside them in fighting racism rather than ignore racist stereotypes in order to promote an event. By doing that, they would be giving their customers the benefit of the doubt, by sending them the message that Lupe Pintos thinks their customers will do the right thing and change their behaviour when they learn something new about how it affects people. I hope that Lupe Pintos will set a good example and do just that."
You see, I think the current voting rights fight isn’t just about politics. Instead, I think of it as just one more battle within a larger war over who gets to be an American, and who among Americans gets to control the meaning of America. That war is not just about political rights, it’s about who controls our culture, and that’s something to be very concerned about.
Why? Because culture is at the heart of identity. Our identities, how we are defined, whether or not we are recognized as who we believe ourselves to be and found worthy, drives our politics. When our identities are threatened, we will do almost anything to protect ourselves.
Food, especially food that “swings American,” is a great gauge of American culture and identity. For instance, we think of hamburgers as an all-American food. But hamburger is named after Hamburg, Germany. The hotdog also has German roots. But these are, truly, American foods. Just as American as choy suey, General Tso’s chicken, and fortune cookies, all also invented in America but that we, nonetheless, think of as Chinese.
I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, back when that La Choy commercial was considered about as offensive as selling water softener as an “ancient Chinese secret.” That was a much more naive time for whites. That naivete was rooted in the unquestioned dominance of whiteness. In fact, so dominant were whites that American was synonymous with Caucasian.
But the racial equity movements of my childhood would soon shatter that naivete, pulling whites into a struggle to maintain their cultural dominance that made the contours and vulnerabilities of whiteness visible to whites, perhaps for the first time. Until then, being the assumed racial and cultural norm of America was fundamental to white identity and to the ethos of American exceptionalism.
But when white cultural advantage was challenged, white folk mobilized. KKK membership grew, White Citizens Councils formed, and the Republican Party stepped in to provide a political vehicle for white backlash that is still in effect today.
And now, as the racial demographics of the U.S. and the world turn to the increasing numerical advantage of non-whites, the backlash movement that peaked in the 1990s is resurgent. Membership in racist Patriot groups and vigilante border patrols is on the rise, and Tea Parties and groups like True the Vote are wreaking havoc on our political process. And they’re not nearly done yet. The global scale of white conservative ambitions can be measured by the body count in what increasingly appears to be a permanent war against the so-called Muslim world, the popular support for which is founded in Islamophobia.
It is in this context that the current voter suppression efforts we are seeing around the country should be understood. Overcoming these efforts in this election cycle is only one among many battles. Unless we see that battle as connected to the battles for immigration rights, religious freedom, racial equity and gender equity, reproductive and sexual freedom, and the battle to curtail the ambitions driving the expansion of American empire, we are missing the dynamics of the larger war and may soon find much more than voting rights among its casualties."
— Scot Nakagawa, “Voting And The Battle For White Cultural Dominance,” RaceFiles 9/28/12
— …check out what the YouTube comments said about this foolishness on the R today!
As I emerged from the Brixton Tube Station, a steel drum band greeted me on the corner. I stayed to listen to the music, but as it was cold, I finally started walking.
The first thing I spotted was the open–air market, which reminded me of a typical African or Caribbean market—lots of starchy tubers, grand pieces of meat, exotic veggies and fruits, and a ton of random stuff, from socks and bedding to key chains?
But where was the covered market?
Before I headed toward where I thought the covered market was, I spotted a stand selling fresh juices and Jamaican snacks, including beef patties. I decided that a patty would be my introduction to food in Brixton.
I would later regret wasting my appetite.
As I entered the covered market, the first eatery that caught my eye was a small cupcake shop. Then I saw a diminutive gourmet brick oven pizza joint. Then, a Caribbean food and goods place, a hamburger restaurant, a tiny shop selling hair weaves, three Colombian restaurants, a braid shop, a vintage clothes shop, and finally a home-style Thai restaurant. And that was just the beginning.
The restaurants weren’t big, either. Most appeared to be between 100 and 200 square feet. But their size didn’t deter the people. I saw dozens of customers eating on benches in the arcade’s breezeway, which was pretty darned cold in early February.
I was confused.
Where was I? In what kind of place can you find intimate, approachable, and clearly very good restaurants alongside weave and ethnic food shops?
Clearly, the Brixton Village Market. And I felt quite comfortable. The hair shops and African/Caribbean goods appealed to my practical need of those things—my blackness. The intimate, affordable and high-quality restaurants featuring food from around the globe appealed to my expanded worldview, my love of others cultures, and my foodie tendencies.
The Brixton Village Market also represented the “new” Brixton, one quite far along on the path of gentrification, but still maintaining its black roots."
— I hope the Travel Diaries becomes a new feature on the R. Check out Kiratiana Freelon’s account of going to Brixton Village on the R today!
Although the ad for the fried chicken wrap has been pulled, there is still much to discuss. An opportunity is present for us to engage in a more meaningful dialogue about health in our communities.Part of the social media and web backlash this commercial generated played on the historical references, of what Patricia Hill Collins calls the “controlling images of Black women,” where you have a happy Black woman, singing and swinging over fried food. Others quickly built the correlation between the increasingly high rates of diet-related disease in the U.S. and the marketing of fast food and soul food to Black communities.
Fried chicken is a staple item in the culture of American food with its roots in southern cooking. A vast majority of Black folks in the U.S. can trace their family lineage to the South. Chicken is not a staple item for marketing because we are Black; it is because we are American. Soul food is an American style of cooking made from a recipe of years in food conservation in the midst of oppression, living in survival mode, turning leftovers into lunch; it also blends African along with Native American/First Nations’ styles and traditions. The soul food menu was born out of a mentality of survival based on economics and environment. For more on the rich history of soul food and culture, check out award-winning documentarian Bryon Hurt ( of “Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes”) and his new project Soul Food Junkies.
Although the plantation and agricultural conditions for the majority of Black people in this country have changed since the turn of the century, the need to survive environment and economics has not. When friends with dietary restrictions, such as no red meat or pork, ask me how I was raised, I tell them: “I eat all forms of well-cooked dead animal.” That’s just how it was growing up. It is a luxury when a family can forgo cost analysis to be highly selective or picky when it comes to food, especially for those growing up in a working-class family like I did. And I think that is a critical issue when we are talking about food: economics."
— Alexandria Barabin, More Than Mary: Black Folks, Economic Justice, And Environmental Justice, Frugivore, 4/12/12