Black food matters : surviving anti-blackness and food insecurity in Washington, D.C.

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2017-12

Authors

Anderson, Sade

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Abstract

Anti-Blackness, food insecurity, and class greatly influence health disparities in Washington, DC leading working class African Americans to suffer from the highest rates of diet related illness in the city. Although several recent studies emphasize racism and gentrification as social, political and economic factors that create food insecure and unhealthy communities, few studies also address the socio-cultural processes behind this phenomenon. Specifically, racism has led African-Americans to alienate themselves from culturally relevant healthy foods—African Heritage foods—that might otherwise offset this trend in health outcomes. The legacies of slavery, contemporary realities of anti-blackness and hegemonic notions of health anchored in the cultural norms of white supremacy lead many African-Americans to believe African heritage foods are neither accessible nor healthy despite research to the contrary. I argue that the discourses of anti-blackness and white supremacy that plague the narrative of food insecurity lead African-Americans to reject their cultural traditions when seeking a healthy lifestyle. This dissertation examines the roots and routes of racial misconceptions about food and their impact on the Black community in NE and SE Washington, DC. Through an ethnographic look at local Black community efforts to undo cultural norms through cooking education, this project investigates the relationship between commodity fetishism and the denigration of African heritage foods (Gilroy 1993). The notion of “healthy food” has been commodified and attached to certain goods alienated from everyday black life. Thus the commodified perception of healthy food that circulates widely in popular discourse is latently tied to normative conceptions of whiteness and white culture (white supremacy) and historical processes of slavery (like the forced separation of African people from their food heritage through enslavement). Based on ethnographic work with Black farmers in Washington, D.C., this project investigates how local food growers shift cultural perceptions of food consumption away from white normativity toward culturally relevant, nutritionally-dense food options that are more accessible for African American residents. Specifically, the dissertation reflects on A Taste of African Heritage cooking classes and its efforts to measure the impact of culturally relevant community programming in the African American communities of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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