Rejecting Our Colonizers Through Food, History, and Sustainability

Humanity’s relationship to food is evolving consistently. We build on our forefather’s creations and fuse cultural dishes to make worlds of our own. From savory to sweet, umami to bitter and everything in-between, it is unsurprising that we are enamored by our meals. Food has the ability to outline stories, habits and relationships, and like many foodies out there, I became enamored by the stories told on Chef’s Table. I have learned about different facets of empathy, sustainability and dedication by listening to these chefs speak on their truth beyond the chopping block.

CHEF’S TABLE – BBQ, VOLUME 1 – ROSALIA CHAY CHUC in episode 4 of CHEF’S TABLE – BBQ. CR. Courtesy of Netflix/NETFLIX © 2020

Ecosystems on a Plate

We can learn a lot about love through cultivating ingredients, how we take care of our environment, and focusing on ingredients local to the season’s harvest. One of my favorite episodes that showcases this is Season 3 with Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz. His craft is focused on exploring ecosystems as an outline for plating and showcasing our environment in different courses. From the high latitudes in the mountains to the depths of below sea level, he showcases how the earth can provide different cuisines based on your location.

There is a reason why certain foods taste better from different countries. The soil, sun exposure, the weather patterns, even the types of insects can affect how certain foods grow, and that isn’t even the end of it. This made me reflect on our relationship with food, and how America treats ingredient accessibility. When we enter our supermarkets, it’s easy to take things for granted. We see our favorite produce all-year round, by the bulk, from mangoes, to apples and pumpkins. The relationship from farmer to the table in America is a completely different trek and it doesn’t allow us to fully appreciate how we get our food and how to best take care of them.

When you see Virgilio Véliz’s plates, he presents the meal as a miniature world. Experiences like a large rock near the ocean, or presenting a miniature “pib” where the diners have to discover their food similar to ancient cooking that is later brought up and expanded upon in Chef’s Table BBQ. Our relationship with food is ever changing, and it should push us to learn about how to take care of the gardens that sustain us. How can we learn about the origins of our food in order to educate ourselves on the substances we put into our bodies.

Keeping Our Ancestor’s Traditions Alive

One of my favorite episodes of Chef’s Table is the last episode of Chef’s Table BBQ. In this episode, chef Rosalia Chay Chuc shows how she keeps the 1000-year-old Mayan tradition alive in her barbeque while making Cochinita Pibil. She slow cooks pork in a “pib,” an underground pit where they would cover the meat in clay and/or wood. When we learn about ancient cooking practices, it is also great to educate ourselves on social culture that comes with certain methods. Speaking to my father and learning about how we had a lineage of Maroons that ran in my family. Which made me research the origins of jerk, how it was made, and how something that the world has grown to love derived from rebellion and survival. I have learned most about my Blackness through the food I am exposed to.

Due to colonization and imperialism many folks are unable to trace their roots, and the only thing that transferred with them is food. We explore Rosalia Chay Chuc’s relationship to the history of Mayan traditions and her desire to pass it down to her children. This episode helped me realize that even food can go through erasure. Sometimes food gets whitewashed with everything else, but this is where the importance of heirlooms, recipes, and cooking with family can come into play while fighting white supremacy. One of the hardest things to see is the erasure of POC in neighborhoods through gentrification, a modern-day colonization that seems acceptable because the violence looks different. It’s heartbreaking seeing our history being erased. From bodegas and small businesses selling plates that derive from years of tradition and then in the same breath seeing them pushed out and replaced with white folks making similar foods at higher prices.

With food comes community. Food is empathy, and we need it to survive, so it is unsurprising to see it being weaponized. From the disenfranchisement of farmers, to the pressures of over production; and then the other side which includes the erasure of historical practices and then having to learn a whitewashed version of your culture through modernized forms of colonization, it’s not surprising that our views on food might be distorted. Watching documentaries like Chef’s Table, that peer into the lives of these creators, can help center our love for the diaspora.

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  • Khadjiah Johnson is a Caribbean-American writer and humor advocate who uses poetry and comedy as a leverage to empathize and uplift. Her work has taken her to Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theater, BET, Off-Broadway and many more! She hopes to use her talents to sway her way into the writers room for a Late Night Comedy Show.

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