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  • Writer's pictureAshley Lee

Can cookbooks be a tool used to dismantle structural racism?

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

In my research on Soul Food and African-Americans I was met with limited literature and cookbooks in that area. Recent discussion around using food as a tool to fight structural racism, argue that cookbooks are a tool to use. I'm not sure, I agree wholeheartedly, but I'm on a journey to find out if I can attain this. In my own way, I've been building up to Health and Heritage my whole life. My fondest memories are built around food.

Growing up, I bonded up with grandmothers, dad, and my sister in the kitchen. At the time I wouldn't see how transformative and healing this kind of experience is. A lot of the food I cooked at home were cultural foods, some passed on my grandmother and others we created together. Food very much is a tool that connects people to themselves, culture, and heritage. A cookbook brings to life past memories in the kitchen, reminds others of their heritage, and connects people.

Growing up, I was told "you need to know your roots". Knowing my roots was an ongoing question, and it wasn't until I was an adult in by 20s that I actively process what that meant. A lot of that realization was brought upon by culture shock when I moved from the Midwest to East Coast, and landed in Boston, MA. My passion for food and Bio-Anthro brought me to Boston University's, Gastronomy program. At the time I wanted to go into microbiome research, but the one faculty who worked in that area left the university. I quickly noticed that was the only person of color in most of my classes. I also noticed the lack of men of color entirely. Hoping to have this transformative experience and be in an environment where I can mesh my love of food and science, I was met with a lot of disappointment. I was disappointed by the discourse and how centered it was on only New England discourse, and brought little discussion of people of color. The coursework was heavily focused on European American foodways.

I felt very left out literally as a woman of color and graduate student. I found myself going home and making comfort foods that I culturally ties to and also recipes that reminded me of my grandmothers.

Food in a way, was how I healed and stayed connected to my cultural identity. For other people of color, I feel this is universal, and that communities who continue to make cultural foods and share them are stronger. I'm very much for finding healthier variations of these foods. I grew up with foods heavy in salt, fat, and red meat. As a result, everyone in my family has or is dealing with some form of chronic health issue. Somewhere along the way with these foods, came the notion that being sick was normal. I spend a lot of my free time finding healthier fat alternatives, healthier meats, or plant based alternatives in cultural dishes. I started doing this because I had two diabetic grandparents who had other health issues, some genetic, but mostly related to poor health and lifestyle changes. Without realizing, Health and Heritage, has been a part of my journey for a long time. And as I build, Health and Heritage, I want to use any tool I can to work towards leading people of color to lead healthful lives. This summer I'm going to begin writing my cookbook.

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