Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on how chefs and restaurants have been mobilized to respond. Remember all the calls to “eat out and support local restaurants” (and tip well) as many were struggling to make it? In New Orleans, I watched as Chef José Andrés’ non-profit World Central Kitchen started sponsoring the meals being delivered to elders in the city. What was going on? I interviewed dozens of chefs about how they decide to show their “care” in times of crises and disaster. What drives their engagement or activism? Why have so many launched non profit foundations? Why have others NOT started formal NGOs?
Christine Barnes and Ben Schrager put together a great issue of Food, Culture and Society on the topic of precarious foodscapes where I got the opportunity to write about all of this — celebrity chef humanitarianism and their responses to (ongoing) crises.
Read on for more about branding, hyper-masculine/macho restaurant culture, precarious labor in the restaurant industry, and how all these things impact chefs’ involvement in food justice and foodscapes.
Abstract: Charitable foundations started by chefs and restaurant companies continue to grow and occupy space as prominent humanitarian leaders during times of crisis, and this paper utilizes research from New Orleans to examine these trends. Drawing on ethnographic data from chefs, donors, and community food activists, this paper examines: why some chefs have started foundations while others have not; the rationales of donors who give to chef foundations; the prevalence of ‘cause’sumerism to raise philanthropic funds; how some restaurant owners attempt to address the precarious labor practices of the industry within their own businesses; and how all these various forms of caring are raced, classed, and gendered. This paper begins and ends with the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, highlighting how chefs and their philanthropic foundations reflect a precarious reliance on caring individuals and non-governmental entities to respond to on-going crises.
I am honored to be selected as a finalist for the American Association of Geographer’s (AAG) 2022 Nystrom Award!
The award comes from a fund established by former AAG Executive Director J. Warren Nystrom (next time you see a printed map or globe, check out the name) and supports an annual prize for a paper based upon a recent dissertation in geography.
Based on my PhD dissertation, my paper, “Crisis Caring: Re-making New Orleans’ Foodscapes” was presented to the Nystrom Committee and other geographers at the AAG’s recent annual conference.
As part of my process of preparing for the presentation, I gave a practice talk to a group of friends — academics from a wide range of disciplines, colleagues from New Orleans and Grow Dat Youth Farm, and co-facilitators from VISIONS Inc. Their collective feedback was amazing, I took it all on, and it drastically strengthened my presentation. Thanks to all contributing their wisdom, and a huge thanks to Austin Zeiderman of LSE for writing a letter of recommendation in support of the award.
Click here to read the final accepted version of my latest publication in the journal Food, Culture & Society. It is available online now and will be out in print April of 2022.
Abstract: In this paper, we situate New Orleans’ post-Katrina “restaurant renaissance” within a context of historical and contemporary racial and gender inequities. This context provides a space for critical consideration of the celebratory narratives popularly attached to the city’s most prominent chefs and their roles in “rebuilding” New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Our critique focuses on the practice of chef “celanthropy” (celebrity philanthropy) and the contradictions often underlying that practice. While we situate this critique in New Orleans, our analysis is more broadly applicable to what Lily Kelting has described as the “New Southern Food Movement.” This movement relies on contradictory tropes of pastoral utopian pasts and harmonious multicultural futures that elide white male hegemony within the food industry, and southern food’s grounding in colonialism and enslavement.
Over the course of my PhD research I discovered the many joys of co-authoring journal articles. While there are challenges, I truly find that the scale tips strongly to the positive side. This collaboration with Catarina Passidomo, Southern Foodways Alliance Associate Professor of Southern Studies and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi, stemmed from co-presenting together at the American Association of Geographers annual conference. I met Catarina while she was conducting her own PhD field research in New Orleans in the early 2010s, and I’ve loved keeping up with her research and amazing work with the Southern Foodways Alliance ever since.
It has been a pleasure to convene and co-author this article with both academic and practitioner colleagues as part of the special issue of Human Geography: Radical Food Geographies, edited by Colleen Hammelman, Kristin Reynolds, and Charles Levkoe. While we wrote this piece in the context of food justice, our aim is for it to be relevant to any place you live or work.
Robin Wall Kimmerer and Gary Nabhan believe that we must have “re-story-ation” if we desire environmental restoration. In our article, we argue that the History of the Land workshop at Grow Dat Youth Farm serves as an excellent guide for engaging in this process of “re-story-ation”. As Jabari Brown asks in our interview in Part 2: “In which ways have we created the problems that we are living with today because we were not in the right kind of relationship with the land?” We must hear the land’s stories in order to form new relationships with the land, and with one another.
Abstract: The History of the Land (Brown et al., 2019) is a workshop, field trip, and pedagogical lens developed at Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans and led with teenagers and adults. Using popular education methods, the lesson explores the relational biography of the land on which the farm currently resides. We argue that the history of the land is essential to understanding the spatial and social configurations of contemporary foodscapes; however, critical land histories are not engaged with in many alternative food initiatives and food justice organizations. We offer the adaptable pedagogical apparatus of the History of the Land as a tool for others to further the generative convergence of food geographies and anti-oppression work. In addition to discussing the workshop at Grow Dat, we reflect upon our own learning and healing from participating in an ongoing series of history of the land field trips to rural Mississippi where several of us hold deep personal ties to the land. We coauthors are a collective of farmers, food activists, educators, and academics. Across differences of gender, race, sexuality, class, location, and history, learning about the land together has brought us into intimate conversation about loss, memory, narration, transformation, and how we imagine alternate, liberatory futures.
I’m excited to be both a presenter and a participant at food and justice-focused events at this year’s American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington, D.C. It was lovely to host many of my colleagues from LSE and beyond in New Orleans last year, and to welcome geographers from across the world to a ‘History of the Land’ workshop at Grow Dat Youth Farm.
Today, April 2, the conference launches with a pre-workshop in Radical Food Geographies hosted by the AAG Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group and the FJSAAS (Food Justice Scholar Activist/Activist Scholar Community of Practice).
As sad as I am to be missing N.K. Jemisin as the writer-in-residence at Newcomb at Tulane this week (!!!), spending time with this community of food workers and thinkers is a pretty solid consolation prize.
Since 2017 I’ve been honored to co-facilitate anti-oppression trainings in the VISIONS model of diversity and inclusion for schools and organizations in New Orleans with Jabari Brown and Kevin Connell.
Founded in 1984, VISIONS is a non-profit training and consulting organization specializing in diversity and inclusion with offices in Massachusetts, California and North Carolina. The Mission of VISIONS is to: to equip individuals, organizations, and communities with the tools needed to thrive in a diverse world; to remove structural and cultural barriers that prevent full and equitable participation; and to help create environments where differences are recognized, understood, appreciated, and utilized for the benefit of all. You can read more about their incredible work and Consultants located across the United States here: https://www.visions-inc.org/
Since the founding of Grow Dat Youth Farm in 2011, I’ve been working in the VISIONS, Inc. model of diversity, equity and inclusion. I learn best by seeing and doing, boots on the ground and hands in the dirt. I have trained in other anti-oppression approaches but I have never engaged with a modality long term and from within an organization where people were collectively committed to utilizing the model. Thus, it has been incredible to witness VISIONS tools in use at Grow Dat, and I was fortunate to experience the model from within an organizational setting for several years. Last fall my ongoing work with Jabari Brown and Kevin Connell included a 2-day training for the public where individuals from across the city were introduced to VISIONS’ tools and methods.
Taking an intersectional approach and utilizing a feminist lens, I use VISIONS to help myself and others interrogate how power functions at personal, interpersonal, cultural and institutional/systemic levels. In my facilitation, teaching and approach to research, VISIONS has taught me to value both process and content: that how I teach is of equal importance to what I teach. You can read more about Jabari, Kevin and some of our multicultural work together here.
If you’re interested in learning more about trainings for institutions in New Orleans or beyond, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Youth Crew Members at Grow Dat Youth Farm. Photo by Claire Bangser.
Transform Magazine, the industry publication of IEMA for environment and sustainability professionals, recently ran a thoughtful profile of Grow Dat. I met the author, Huw Morris, when I was speaking at the ‘Sustainable Food and Beveridge’ event as part of the LSE Festival: Beveridge 2.0 this past March.
As you will see, I always love an excuse to quote Wendell Berry. And let it be known that every time I talk about sustainable agricultural practices, I’m directly quoting Grow Dat’s Farmers who are far more knowledgable than me!
From the article:
One of Grow Dat’s founding principles is that the toughest social problems will not be solved by individuals or by one group of people alone. “This is one of the lasting lessons of Hurricane Katrina, a dozen years later,” Jeanne Firth says. The project hires young people from partner schools across New Orleans for its five-month leadership programme. Starting at age 15, they come from across the spectrum – elite private Catholic schools, alternative schools and Louisiana’s Center for Juvenile Offenders. “We intentionally hire young people from a dozen different high schools across the city,” she says. “They are young people who work together but might never normally meet.”
I enjoyed reviewing the new collection out from Bloomsbury, Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary Food edited by Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo (2017), for the LSE Review of Books. My contribution is part of an effort to amplify women’s voices in publishing for the month of March — here’s a great overview of the initiative by Rosemary Deller, Managing Editor of the Review.
Making Milk assembles a provocative collection of strong interdisciplinary scholarship to explore milk’s material, affective, historical, semantic, symbolic and economic relations. Some of my favorite chapters come from Mathilde Cohen, Greta Gaard and Richie Nimmo.
Within the collection, the editors ascribe to a non-biological definition of milk, ‘so as to encompass the full range of milk’s material, affective, historical, semantic, symbolic, and economic relations’. Practically, this means that the essays included are interdisciplinary, covering a wide range of scholarship. More conceptually, the authors’ use of a non-biological definition is key to the book’s successful contribution to critical thought. I love a thread of questioning that is tied to this definition: is milk a ‘natural’ substance? (echoed by the question ‘what is it?’ proposed by Greta Gaard in Chapter Eleven, which Gaard engages to challenge gender dualism and binary thinking). What is natural?
Thinking about milk in light of this collection, it is a slippery substance. Right at the moment of pinning it down, of assigning milk a definitive label and categorisation, its flow changes course. Slippages drip into unexpected places and open up new lines of inquiry, making milk indeed deserving of our attention and care.
I recently had the honor of presenting at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s (SFA) graduate student conference, ‘Foodways and Social Justice in the U.S. South‘ at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The colloquium brings together ‘graduate students from a range of disciplines to exchange knowledge, experience, and scholarship’. In my talk, I shared some of my early reflections from my Phd fieldwork and research on the role that philanthropy is playing in the food movement in post-Katrina New Orleans.
I was impressed by the generosity of the SFA (the colloquium is free and the food is fantastic — we had an incredible dinner at Snackbar), the moving and important tour of the campus by Professor Jeff Jackson of the Slavery Research Group, and the stellar food scholarship by other attendees from around the country.