Too Thrifty Chicks

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Food for Thought: Race, Gentrification, and Food

“The foods of different peoples, shaped by habitat and by our history, [became] a vivid marker of difference, symbols both of belonging and of being excluded.” –Sidney Mintz

As many of you know, I’m a doctoral candidate in my offline life. As a PhD-in-training, I’m expected to share about my research at conferences and in publications. Last week I attended Food for Black Thought at the University of Texas-Austin where I was able to share about the work I’m doing in D.C.  Talking to Ricks, I realized I haven’t shared much (if anything) about the research I do on the blog, so here you go. Last Friday morning I was up way before sunrise in Austin, Texas thinking about the presentation I would give that day. I sat up in bed and wrote:

I’m awake in Austin, Texas. I present at Food for Black Thought today. I slept very little last night; maybe I’m anxious. What do I want people to know about Deanwood? About my research? I want them to know Deanwood is a place with history. It isn’t perfect but most of the people who live there-especially the elders love it precisely because of it’s history; because it has become the place that it is because of Nannie Helen Burroughs, Carter G. Woodson, and other black folks who invested time and money into it. I want them to know that it’s changing; that the city has prioritized Deanwood as a site for “revitalization” (read: gentrification), and retaining current residents is not high on the priority list. In five to ten years, Deanwood won’t look the way it looks now. As for food–it’s complicated. Just like other places that are labeled “food deserts” (I have a love-hate relationship with this term), it has the corner stores, the liquor stores, the fast food joints, and carry-outs. but we have to be careful of leaving the story there, because Deanwood also has a rich history of trading goods from gardens (long before community gardens were a “thing”), supporting hucksters selling door-to-door, and being a commercially vital neighborhood, earning it the nickname “a self-reliant” community). I don’t mean to idealize the space. This history primarily lives in the minds of residents and in the life of oral traditions, since there is very little written history about the neighborhood. These histories are threatened when we talk about food deserts as having no past and potentially no future. These spaces/places are always in flux and the changes are complicated, set in motion by a number of things: elders dying, rapid globalization that affected local industry, young professionals moving into the neighborhood, lack of economic investment, etc. etc. etc. And here we are in the present where the biggest thing I want people to know is food is never just about food. Deanwood is such a powerful example of what a neighborhood (complete with traditions and history) looks like after systematic disinvestment. Food is simply nestled within layers of power and culture and to meaningfully engage, those layers cannot be neglected.

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Me, Michael Twitty, and Naya–sorry, you can’t see the yellow shoes that give an extra pop of color 🙂

So there you have it folks. This is the type of research I do. I’m very grateful for spaces like Food for Black Thought and colleagues like Naya and Michael Twitty (check out his blog http://www.afroculinaria.com). In that type of space, I don’t have to separate myself into different beings. I can bring my whole self, and I think because of that, I’m growing into a better scholar. That’s part of the reason I’m inspired to share here. Writing a dissertation is a big part of my life these days. Makes no sense not to share with our faithful readers, right?

I might start blogging more about research in the future, but for now, this is what I would like you and the world to know. For the readers who might be interested in food justice or health disparities, I hope this inspires you to start from the questions, who are the people I am invested in helping? and What is the history of this particular place? There is no one size fits all model for anything. To deny a place and people’s history is to exclude them from meaningful processes. Food is never just about food.

(P.S.–I was really cute at the symposium *two snaps*. Who says you have to wear a suit to look professional?”)

If you’re interested in learning more about Food for Black Thought, check them out on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Food-for-Black-Thought/359534887456758. Also, check out this article about the event here: http://www.austin360.com/weblogs/relish-austin/2013/oct/08/food-black-thought-race-food-and-gentrification/

If you’re interested in the work I do, drop a line. Ask questions. I’m happy to share.

-Reese


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Confession

Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession. –Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday we went to church as we almost always do, hugging and greeting people as we came in, sitting on the same side as always. I didn’t grab a program when I walked in, but there was one in our pew. I looked at it and saw the subject of the sermon: confessing your guilt. That took me to a place where I didn’t want to be; that I didn’t want to remember. I usually take notes on the sermons, but I didn’t this time. Nor did I fully engage. I intentionally disconnected, because I didn’t want to hear it or feel it. But it really didn’t matter what I wanted. Just the topic itself had already uprooted in me ugly things that I knew couldn’t be buried anymore. Even still, I thought I could do what had worked in the past: I do something wrong. I justify it in my head. I pray about it. I let it go. I move on.

Last night, Ricks and I talked as we always do. She shared some stuff with me that caused me great anxiety–like anxiety that I could feel in every part of my body. Like, I felt nauseous kind of anxiety. I wasn’t anxious because of what she shared. In fact, I was feeling really proud of her and lots of admiration. I was anxious because what she shared reminded me that I couldn’t bury things. That sometimes, confessing to god is not enough. You need to go an extra step and confess things to people who you’ve wronged or hurt. So I decided to do that, because I knew it was the right thing to do. And I knew I needed to do it immediately, or I would rationalize not doing it. The details of those confessions are of no consequence for this post, but just know I did it. And it hurt. It forced me to a place of coming face to face with my humanity, my imperfections in ways that I had not before. I was reminded that my actions are not simply about me. They can cause great pain for others. I had to stop justifying things that I had done and give up this idea that I was “right,” when in fact, I wasn’t. I was completely wrong. wrong. wrong.

This morning I woke up with puffy eyes, a hacking cough, and a body that I had to will out of bed. Today is one of those not-so-good days when facing myself is really hard to do. Today is one of those days where I don’t want to look in the mirror. I don’t want to think about all the nice things people say about me. I don’t even want to think about the “good” things I do in this world. Today is not one of those warm and fuzzy days. It is not a time or space where I feel good. I can’t even say I want to feel good. It is a day where I want to punish myself for my shortcomings and the actions I’ve done that have ever hurt anyone.

But I know I can’t live life like that. I can’t punish myself everyday for something that god and the person I confessed to have already forgiven me for. The question is, will I forgive myself? At some point. I’m not ready yet. Right now I’m just sitting with myself–not trying to fix anything. Just sitting. Assessing how I’m feeling. what I’m thinking. What it means to be a beautiful mess of imperfections. I’m just sitting in all this. Tomorrow might be different, and I hope so. But today is one of those days where being gentle with myself is really hard. And even as I type this I’m thinking….perhaps the fact that I am giving myself the time to process is being gentle. Perhaps. I don’t really know. But what I do know is this: there are going to be times when you and I do things that are not nice, not right, not perfect. When those times happen, we’ll have to choose what to do with it. In particular cases, I chose to bury those things, because I didn’t want to face my own imperfections. Yesterday, I took a step toward undoing that. That was my choice. It hurt. It hurt someone else. But ultimately, if I say I value honesty, my life needs to reflect that even in times when others can’t see it. Sure, I could have possibly lived with this thing for the rest of my life, but it would have continued to be a road block to my growth and my freedom. I encourage you to search yourself. I implore you to consider whatever ways you might need to make amends with someone. Stop thinking that you’re “protecting” them by keeping whatever it is you’re holding on to. You’re not! And in fact, you’re not protecting yourself either. While you hold on tightly to that thing, you can’t embrace something else.

So….back to where I started. I confessed. I freed myself of guilt, and now i have to figure out what it means to forgive self…..”an ultimate expression of self love” as my roommate would say. I’m not giving myself a lot of love today, but thank god for people around me who do. Maybe tomorrow it will be different. I hope it will. I think it will. But today I was reminded that:

I am not a horrible person.

God has forgiven me.

The person has forgive me.

It’s ok to feel remorse.

It’s ok to feel sad.

It’s ok to be angry at myself.

It’s ok to forgive myself, even if I still feel all these emotions.

When I’m ready to stop feeling this way, it’s ok to let the feelings go.

Be kind to myself.

Be gentle with myself.

Thanks for reading. It is hard to share, but it is also necessary. I wanted to share from a place of imperfection and humility. I needed you to see this…and me.

-A.Reese