My CoFED Racial Justice Fellowship has been an incredible learning experience. Considering the sheer ridiculousness of the current state of the US and the World, I could not think of a more important time to be centering this work. To center food justice in our work is to center all justice; environmental, racial, sociocultural, economic; whoever we are and whatever we do, we all need to eat, and all need to eat well.
This summer marked the beginning of a two-fold journey; on a personal and political level, I learned the importance (and the difficulty) of putting your money where your mouth is. For all my love of urban foraging and horizontal, non-hierarchal learning, in the past 23 years I had never once truly attempted to teach myself the skills I was hoping to gain over the course of these 10 weeks. I had read the books and the articles, had the proper role models, and knew all the right words to say, but too much of my personal shit got in the way of putting theory into practice. From mental health crises and emotional abuse to a jam-packed academic schedule, to helping my friends through their shit and refusing to healthily prioritize myself, I never felt I had the time. My life has been a series of reactions, of following through on plans others have made for me and doing my best to roll with the punches and refusing to take a stand for myself, up until graduation day of 2016. Having followed through on the preconceived plan of “poor brown kid makes it to private top tier college and graduates in 4 years”, I really had no clue what to do with myself. I had “made it”; albeit as a Theatre major, but still. I had made it. There was no plan for after.
Despite being a pretty good student, I never really cared much about “success.” What I cared about was cooking. And love, and transformative justice, and helping people; always, always, always helping people. All the things I was interested in -- cooperatives, food, racial justice, emotional care, food independence -- they were all so important, and so completely unhelpful at providing me with any employment. That is, until I was referred to CoFED by another cooperative I was working for at the time, Red Emma’s in Baltimore, MD. The idea of being not only paid for, but respected for, the work that I wanted to do was too exciting to pass up. But for all my enthusiasm I, again, had no real, actionable experience of my own, and the challenge of both learning and teaching was something I had never considered. My plan for this project was to either facilitate or teach a number of workshops on how the most marginalized of us can thrive under our own care, and nourish ourselves outside of the systems that ultimately seek to destroy us and our independence.
So many of us embody intersections that leave us without the resources to do so much as feed ourselves, let alone live well, and happily, and fully in this world. My hope was to help correct some of that injustice; to put these skills like foraging, dumpster diving, survival cooking, nutritional knowledge, back into the hands of those of us who not only need them, but often invented or embodied them long before the swathe of hipsters who decided it was fun to pretend to be poor. There is such a learned aversion to food independence in many cultures of Color in America; we were taught that self-sufficiency is dirty, shamed for our access to and our love of the land, shamed for our parents’ refusal to waste good food, and nowadays, shamed for our learned aversion to the skills and paradigms that mainstream (read: White) leftist food culture has now lovingly adopted as their own. I hoped to push back against this.
But hope is not enough. Love requires work; learning requires work, and if there is nothing else I learned this summer it is this. You probably can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, but whatever tools you have at your disposal, you need to know how to use them. One of the hardest parts of reteaching some of this ancestral knowledge? Social Media. Communication.
Steady, consistent, dependable communication. To teach, you must be trusted; to be trusted, you must be known; and at the beginning of this process, I was neither. I had not put in the work to earn my place in this movement from which I could help others; I was too busy trying to help myself.
I did learn, though. At least, I like to think I did. Not too many folks came to my workshops, but someone asked me to present a workshop on some of the work I did, and that feels like part of a success. Seeing the 2-6 workshop participants posting positive comments all over Facebook, and making post-workshop plans to co-facilitate teach-ins, and having lively discussions on the merits of elderberries; all of these feel like success, and community, and progress; not just for me, and the work I hope to do, but for all of us who care about food and the ways we interact with food. I think we learned a lot, this summer; learned the power we all hold collectively, the consequences of using it (or not), and the bridges we need to build between us to solidify a foundation from which we can all rise. There is no more urgent time than now; no more urgent work than this; the building up of power, of culture, of our skills and ourselves into a force that cannot be reckoned with. From Berkeley, to Charlottesville, to Houston; from Barbuda, to Venezuela, to the Phillipines; we are facing crisis. We have been facing this same crisis in different forms since colonization and supremacy first reared their ugly heads; we live in a world that places people at the bottom of the totem pole, and money at the top. This is an untenable situation, and one that cannot be remedied alone, or without extensive, multi-tiered solutions.
But even the most complex solutions grow from the simplest of roots, and the roots of my work are this: learn. Do. Teach. Love. Feed each other until our bellies are bursting with joy and our eyes are brimmed with contentment. Take care of everyone you love, and love everyone you can, and continue to search for a better way to be in community.
Put your money where your mouth is. Or better yet, forget the money, and feed people with the abundance of the World. She’s been here this whole time, and loves us still. If we can all embody that, or at least try to, love as far-reaching as the seven seas, work as grounded as the Earth from which all real nourishment comes from; if those are the ideas by which we live, then we are supported by a love as vast as we are. And that is what revolution looks like. (Sorry if it sounds kitschy; I’m a poet.)
Throughout modern justice movements, zines have been a staple and cornerstone of information gathering and dissemination. When mainstream media cracked down on radical voices, we created our own avenues of communication, from public radio, to secret newspapers, to these short, handmade, DIY crappy-but-still-beautiful works of art. Zines have often been inaccessible or irrelevant to many folks of color, much in the same ways many justice movements themselves have been inaccessible to us (due to racism, classism, and lack of intersectional critique). However, there is an illustrious history of pushback against that. From the 1980’s Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press to Margarita Alcantra’s 1995 edition of Bamboo Girl, to the POC Zine Project today, we have made our own voices, always, alongside others.
I hope that by creating this free, readily-accessible resource, there can be one more of the many avenues through which we can communicate, and love, and learn.
Finding Our Food Again: A Radical PoC Guide to Survival is a 3 part guide, co-created with CoFED, and a myriad of teachers, healers, kitchen witches and herbalists who have been willing to guide me.
This guide includes a multitude of skills, paradigms and tips hopefully relevant to rebuilding our communities and our relationship with the Earth through food. Part I focuses on urban foraging; what to forage, where to forage, and why it's important for folks of color in these communities to have these skills in the first place!"
If you happen to want a hard copy, fill out the order form here!
Dominique has been a member of the cooperative movement since 2012. They spent 4 years total in Oberlin College Co-ops, including Harkness and Third World Co-op. They subsequently began working at Red Emma’s Bookstore and Coffeehouse, an anarchist cooperative based in Baltimore, MD, before joining CoFED. They are currently a CoFED Racial Justice Fellow, continuing their food justice work by providing workshops and skillshares connecting PoC to their cultural culinary roots in a symbiotic, sustainable push for collective liberation. Follow Dominique's work on Facebook here.