From scholarship to grassroots movements, African American women are exercising agency to feed communities. It’s a heritage thing.
When our foremothers exited enslavement, they walked into the question of survival. Food was often the answer.
An Academic’s Take on Food
Two scholars working to bridge the distance between the past and today by creatively presenting history as a model for black women food entrepreneurs, are Psyche Williams-Forson and Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelona.
Psyche Williams-Forson is the author of Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, a book that examines the complexity of black women’s legacies using food as a form of cultural work. Williams-Forson, a professor at the University of Maryland, uses personal interviews and portraits of black women in history to illustrate the self-reliance found in vending foods like fried chicken.
The other scholar, Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelon is a scholar and ethnographer based out of University of California Davis. Nettles-Barcelon is also working on a book-length project on women’s food entrepreneurship, but she teaches about black women using food to feed and fuel social movements such as the Black Panthers’ breakfast program, and has interviewed Tanya Holland, the chef-owner of Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen about leveraging the stereotypes associated with black women and soul food.
Moving to change the concept of restaurateurs, Devita Davison is one of the bridges between the past and today. Davison serves as executive director of FoodLab Detroit, a community of food entrepreneurs committed to making the possibility of good food in Detroit a sustainable reality.
Many members of the community are black women who were operating domestic kitchen enterprises – selling plates – to friends and neighbors. Davison and FoodLab enable single mothers, retirees, and women in transition to take their food businesses to the next level by providing information on the laws governing food production, certifications, and commercial kitchens.