Foodways practices are crucial to Black life. These stories include recipe sharing, feeding of houseless neighbors, and more.
The Ifá tradition places food at the center of spirituality where it functions as spiritual medicine. Medicine in African traditions does not carry the same meaning as it does in the western world. In African religion, medicine is a mixture of specific materials and objects that, when combined, have the ability to affect power in the world. The preparation of specific types of food in the Ifá religion holds just as much weight as the food itself. The centrality of food unites the black diasporic experience, where social gatherings feature dishes that are descendants of traditional African dishes, like Jambalaya. Food also acts as a means of connecting to African history and spiritual practice, rooted in the physical experience of eating.
The Black Church Food Security Network is an organization that was started at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, MD. The organization helps churches establish community gardens on their land, hosts mini farmer’s markets, and buy produce from black farmers to benefit the community. Churches around the US act as food hubs and distributors to serve their communities too. The BCFSN aims to improve the health and wealth of the African-American community through food and empower African-American people in the process.
Eating disorders within the black community have historically been encouraged by systematic poverty and food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, and stigma from within and outside of the black community. However, there has been an increased push to talk about eating disorders within black communities, as well as the intersection between race and mental health, by black doctors, therapists, and others in the health community. Events such as the “Ancestral Legacies & Eating Disorders in Black Communities” talk discuss the impact eating disorders have on the black community and discuss how to overcome ancestral trauma to embrace healing.
Oldways is a nonprofit organization that seeks to reintroduce traditional African, Caribbean, Latin American, and Mediterranean diets to POC communities to combat disproportionately high rates of obesity and comorbidities. Adrian Mosley, an administrator from Johns Hopkins, has combined faith with Oldways’ curriculum to reach a larger portion of the African American community in Baltimore, Maryland. The program connects biblical lessons to cooking traditions from Africa to encourage healthier eating and cooking habits among its participants.
Kiara Whack is a chef and mental health advocate from Hampton, Virginia who is using her background in psychology and her personal experiences to educate people on how changing your diet can change your mental state. She educates people on the power of superfoods through her company Traveling Thyme Bomb, LLC, and has published a memoir of her experiences and lessons titled Dis(Re)covery: An Autobiography for Edible Consumption.
Soul Fire Farm is an organization founded by a black Jewish family in Albany, NY initially to provide fresh food to their community. Since the farm’s founding, it has grown into a large program that has a nationwide impact, distributing food to thousands of people and working with thousands more through youth programs and community workshops. The group uses afro-indigenous farming practices (like agroforestry and polyculture) to regenerate the ecosystem in addition to planting a variety of crops and raising livestock to create biological diversity. The food the farm produces is distributed to communities living under food apartheid and those disproportionately affected by systematic state violence.
The Baltimore Compost Collective is an organization that collects food scraps and other compostable materials to contribute to the compost pile at the Filbert Street Community Garden to grow to produce and combat urban food insecurity. The organization also functions as a youth entrepreneurship program that trains local teenagers in community-scale composting, food access programming, and other skills applicable to the workforce.
During quarantine, Baltimore-based food designer and social practice artist Krystal C. Mack created "How To Take Care," a digital community zine featuring recipes, poems, journal prompts, and meditations. The project is intended to serve as a "motivational tool for you on the path to mental and physical respite in uncertain times." Released in March of 2020 for $5, all of the proceeds from "How To Take Care" support victims of domestic violence. This project is a beautiful example of how Black women have cared for themselves and their communities during periods of isolation and kept each other well in these unprecedented times.
In 1969 Fannie Lou Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative, a grassroots organization that planted crops to benefit poor black families. Cash crops like soy and cotton were grown to pay taxes while other crops such as peas, squash, and collard greens were grown to be given back to the families that worked on the coop. Eventually a “pig bank” was started so that poor families could have pig meat in addition to produce. However, without sufficient institutional backing, the coop could not survive over the long term.
Meals as Collective Memory is an oral history project developed in Central Brooklyn to document the socio-culinary history behind Black-owned restaurants as well as the impact of foodways on memory. The chefs and restauranters discuss their memories of family cooking and mealtimes, as well as the conception of their restaurants and recipes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the project shifted to document Black food culture facing pandemic-related challenges but also the opportunities it brought.