Black American women have long sustained a complex relationship to food—its production, consumption, and distribution within families, communities, and the nation. Black women, often represented in American culture as “natural” good cooks on the one hand and beset by obesity on the other, straddle an uncomfortable divide that is at the heart of contemporary debate about the nature of our food system. Yet, Black women as authorities in the kitchen and elsewhere in matters of food—culturally, politically, and socially—are largely absent, made invisible by the continued salience of intersecting vectors of disempowerment: race/gender/class/sexuality. In this dialogue, we bring together a variety of agents, approaches, explorations, and examples of the spaces where Black American women have asserted their “food voices” in ways that challenge fundamentally the status quo (both progressive and conservative) and utilize the dominant discourses to create spaces of dissent and strategic acquiescence to the logics of capital ever-present in our food systems.
Black Women’s Food Work as Critical Space
Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelón is Associate Professor in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Guyana Diaries: Women’s Lives across Difference (Left Coast Press, 2008) and has published essays in Gastronomica and Boom: A Journal of California on issues of food, race, and gender. She is the Social Science Book Review Editor for Food and Foodways.
Chef Gillian Clark is a no-nonsense interpreter of classic American cuisine. She is a culinary talent who has captured the attention of food lovers and critics nationwide. She opened her own restaurant, Colorado Kitchen, in 2001. She has been featured on the Food Network and in the New York Times. Her memoir/cookbook, Out of the Frying Pan, is published by Thomas Dunne Press. She is currently Executive Chef at Mobile, Alabama’s top-rated restaurant, Kitchen On George.
Courtney Thorsson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon, where she teaches, studies, and writes about African American literature. Her book, Women’s Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women’s Novels (University of Virginia Press, 2013), argues that novels of the 1980s and ’90s reclaim and revise cultural nationalism. Her articles have appeared in Callaloo, African American Review, and MELUS. Thorsson’s current book project is a study of foodways in African American cookbooks, poetry, and fiction.
Jessica Kenyatta Walker is a doctoral candidate in the department of American Studies and a certificate holder in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Jessica’s research explores visual cultures that communicate the historical, cultural, and social relationships between racial identity and food. She currently teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies and American Studies programs at Kenyon College as a 2015–16 Marylin Yarbrough Dissertation/Teaching Fellow.
Psyche Williams-Forson is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park and an affiliate faculty member of the Women’s Studies and the African American Studies departments. She is an Associate Editor of the journal Food and Foodways, co-editor (with Carole Counihan) of Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World (Routledge, 2011), and author of Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
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Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelón, Gillian Clark, Courtney Thorsson, Jessica Kenyatta Walker, Psyche Williams-Forson; Black Women’s Food Work as Critical Space. Gastronomica 1 November 2015; 15 (4): 34–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2015.15.4.34
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