No, food is not ‘just food’ in the Black community, and that’s okay.

I want you to know that we had another round of coronavirus disease in my house. I want you to know that my daughter, mother-in-law and I contracted this in April and were incapacitated for weeks on end. I also want you to know that my mother-in-law, who lived a full life at age 76, ultimately passed away from complications related to COVID-19.

This has been a difficult time for all of us. She is someone who was instrumental in changing the trajectory of so many lives with her generosity, her kindness, her thoughtfulness and compassion; a Haitian woman who brought her young son to the United States, a woman who welcomed that son’s fiancée into her home until they recovered as a couple and family, a woman who was easily one of the faces most recognizable in her neighborhood. What is it like to remember such a titanic woman?

Hearing how everyone remembers her, they always talk about how she fed them. She always came with a Tupperware, Country Crock container, or a Jell-O jar of something she had made. She came with bags of pre-marinated meat, cooked it at your house and brought it to you on your plate.

Years ago, years ago, I had a commenter here who talked about how she struggled with the idea of ​​abandoning the basic cultural elements that tied her to the people who made her the woman she is today. She asked, “But if one of the few ties that bind me is food… how can I bear to let go of yet another bond with those I love?

Over the years, I have realized that food is culture. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Culture is music, style and language, but it is also food.

Just as music conveys a particular type of energy, message, and spirit within its community, and just as language communicates thoughts and experiences, so does food. What story is told when someone hands you a plate of Joumou Soup? What history do they teach you when you stand next to the matriarch of the family while watching her? clean The Greens?

Over the years, I have learned a lot about food as an expression of cultural identity and how different cultures translate the same ingredients in a thousand different ways. Culture is generational: it links us to those who came before us, shows us how we have evolved as a community, and gives us a connection to our shared history. This is what my ancestors thought, this is what they hoped for, this is what sustained them. However, the meaning of this is erased when we talk about black culture.

The premise is that our Culture – because it is not the culture of a particular type of wealth and discrete consumption, because its core components are not heralded by white supremacy – is dispensable. Should be abandoned by something better. And it is always very clear that “something better“it actually means “something whiter.”

I hear a lot of this in discussions about who is currently succumbing to the coronavirus disease (aka COVID-19). That black people in America are 2.4 times more likely to die, if they are infected with the disease, because they have high cholesterol and blood pressure or because they are obese; that blacks in America are obese because of “food they eat.” They are fat because their food it makes them fat. they are addicted to excess. They They can’t control themselves even if it meant saving their own lives.

Because our health, as a community, is seen as a problem that us caused with our own behaviors and decision making, it is treated as a justification for why this is not America concern. This is not America problem. That is his problem. Never mind the fact that the 49.6% obesity rate for black Americans is barely different from the 42.2% white rate, just over a 6% difference. It is an opportunity to denigrate black culture, to justify why it should be eliminated. It’s a chance to step on black people once again.

If there are disparities in numbers between white and black Americans, perhaps these are not moral failings of black society; perhaps it is a reflection of a society where the overwhelming majority of hospitals, grocery stores, and walkable spaces are centralized in predominantly white communities. Perhaps it is time to talk about the large number of African Americans who work in jobs that are so physically exhausting that they do not offer them the luxury of time to engage in physical activity, and there are no benefits to help them pay for the care they need for blood pressure or cholesterol. Maybe it’s time to talk not only about food desertsbut food swamps—environments where only The available food resources are fast food restaurants.

That’s why food becomes political. Food is about identity. Asking—no, demanding-For someone to give up their food, their culture, is asking people to give up that identity. Stating that they has to Doing this to survive, both literally and figuratively, is not only racist, but it’s also a lie. People who eat the standard American diet still develop diabetes and heart disease, and continue to struggle with high cholesterol, regardless of their race.

Politics is about shaping the world we live in and how government serves the people it represents. If our cultural foods are understood to be bad and should be abandoned (news flash: they are not), then the result is disinvestment: there are not enough hospitals in our community, there are no grocery stores to serve us, there are no investment in clean and walkable spaces. There is no reason to invest in saving a community whose culture “undermines its own well-being.”

But, in many ways, that culture fulfills us and helps us feel seen. My unwavering loyalty to kale is both a commitment to my own health and a commitment to the 4 generations of women who played in the backyard where our greens grew. My mother-in-law, who would notice how I spend hours At my desk, working without moving, much less eating, he brought me a giant plate of beans and rice and a cup of ginger tea. she would pikliz and keep a jar on the side of the refrigerator for me when he realized I was making my own pickles. And every New Year’s, while I was doing my Hoppin’ John, she was doing Joumou Soup.

If the question remains: “But if one of the few ties that bind me is food… how can I bear to let go of yet another bond with those I love?” In my opinion, the answer is clear: you can’t.

Food is a fundamental part of 5 love languages that we all know so well. Having someone teach you a recipe is a action; bring you a plate is a gift; Ask an elder to take your hand and guide it over a green cabbage leaf to make sure you know how to check if it is clean. physical contact. Sitting and eating together is Quality time. He culture It always included these forms of love. It only turned out to be incorrect that food represented love when we were referring to black people.

We make all Do you need to find different ways to show love? Of course. That does not erase the power of this shape. It does not erase the value of culture.

Food is not “just food,” but we never needed it to be. In a society where all is experiencing an increase in diabetes, heart disease and cholesterol, it is much more likely that the “problem” has more to do with the processed foods we all eat and less to do with the cultural staples that many of us have been cooking from scratch for generations. I maintain that nobody is eating Soul Food seven days a week; The foods people eat every day are much more likely to be fast food, packaged processed foods, TV dinners, canned sauces, and other items loaded with sugar, salt, and starch. Our eating habits are more than that.

Recipes passed down from elders and fed to babies are more than roots in a rich family tree that still bears fruit, they are a connection to the people who loved us and presented nourish us That’s more than food: that’s Food for the soul.

My mother-in-law didn’t speak much English, but she knew how to show love in a language we all knew in a way we will never forget. That’s the most important reason why food can’t just be food: food can talk when nothing else can. To abandon that sacred ritual, because of white supremacy, would betray more than those who came before us: we would be betraying ourselves.

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