Alison Hope Alkon, Yuki Kato, and Joshua Sbicca are the co-editors of A Recipe for Gentrification: Food, Power, and Resistance in the City (NYU Press, 2020). This important new book outlines the ways that food and gentrification are closely intertwined in North American cities—not just in New York City or Vancouver, British Columbia, but in smaller, less obvious places like Portland, Oregon; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Durham, North Carolina. A Recipe for Gentrification makes clear that gentrification processes are both complex and contradictory, combining delicious foods with deep feelings of discomfort as vulnerable communities become even more vulnerable due to rising rents and urban displacement. New opportunities for restaurateurs and diners do not necessarily translate into fair wages, shared profits, or dignified living conditions for residents. This research gives us new tools to critically appraise how changing urban foodscapes can engender displacement but also resistance.

Two food scholars and fans of this book, Josée Johnston and Michael Chrobok, were delighted to have the chance to sit down and talk with Alison (AA), Yuki (YK), and Joshua (JS) about their new volume—as well as their broader thoughts on food and gentrification, including beyond the North American urban context. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Josée Johnston:

When did you first realize that food and gentrification were linked? Can you think of a moment or an example when those connections became apparent to you?

Alison Hope Alkon:

I have a very clear moment. I worked with a food justice organization in Oakland, California, called Phat Beets Produce, and a realtor put out a video about why people should move to the neighborhood where Phat Beets worked. The video said things like, “You should move here because of walkable streets! You should move here because the housing is affordable! You can walk to all these great new bars and restaurants, and there’s a great farmers market and community garden in the neighborhood!” Phat Beets had run the farmers market and community garden, and they were livid because they saw the video as inviting people to move in and displace those whom they had designed their farmers market and community garden to serve. As a result, I began to think a lot about how food justice work can make areas seem ripe for gentrification by unwittingly inviting boosters, realtors, and other folks who have money to make by gentrifying neighborhoods.

Yuki Kato:

The link between food and gentrification is something I’ve always noticed as I’ve traveled to different cities. I was in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 2008 to 2015 as the city was turning around following Hurricane Katrina. Obviously, New Orleans is known for its food; its culinary tradition is a big part of its tourism. But the food that most of the new restaurants were marketing was no longer stereotypical Creole/Cajun cuisine; dishes were “local twists” on everything from European fine dining to hot dogs. I’d travel to places like Brooklyn, New York, and I just started to feel like, “This all feels the same!” What they were doing, on the surface, was very local and specific, but at the same time, something made me feel like this was all iterations of the same thing. It was always happening with people who seemed to fit a similar profile—young, college-educated people who are drawn to a “creative class” type of a city. I think that was one of the first times that I really started to think about the role that food plays: not just a reflection of, but a very strong driving force of, gentrification.

Joshua Sbicca:

I was doing research in West Oakland, California, in 2008–2009, and I remember talking to a food justice activist who was concerned that gentrification was going to be entering West Oakland. They wondered whether some of the food justice work that was going on in Oakland—for example, Mandela Marketplace, a cooperatively owned market, and urban farms—might begin to attract newcomers given the proximity to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line and the ease with which somebody can get into San Francisco. That was the first time I remember somebody mentioning that connection. Then I started, as Yuki articulated, to see how there was a relationship between food and gentrification in other cities across the United States. When I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2014, I remember seeing those connections really explicitly in nearby Denver. In one case, a craft café put out a sandwich board that claimed, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014,” and, “Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado.”1 I was doing social network analysis on the food movement in Denver at that time, trying to understand the lay of the land and the challenges and opportunities of doing food movement work. Land was a perennial concern throughout the movement, particularly the need to acquire land for urban food production. There was concern about the ways urban agriculture was getting co-opted by gentrifying forces and concern over land insecurity. There was conversation around the fact that urban agriculture is not a high-value land use compared to, say, housing, but at the same time housing developments were using urban agriculture—as Alison noted—to sell condos and townhomes. In one case, the Sustainability Park, or S*Park, developments were riffing off a set of three urban farms that were on a space that was formerly public housing in Curtis Park, an historically Black neighborhood. The land sat vacant for a long time until the Denver Housing Authority sold that land and then built a “community garden” for the people who bought condos at the S*Park development. With that, I started to see these very explicit kinds of relationships between food and gentrification that now seem quite ubiquitous in a lot of our cities.

Table 1:

Examples of how food plays a role in facilitating gentrification—intended or unintended

Foodways can be co-opted by gentrifying forces:Community changes can be experienced through foodways:Well-intended food projects can still support gentrification:
Developers embrace urban agriculture for redevelopment Hipster food retail “discovers” and markets existing foodways to newcomers Savior entrepreneur restaurants spur displacement through revitalizing downtown 
Ethical gentrification framing justifies reinvention of working class foodways Newcomers’ practice of “urban agriculture” is disconnected from long-term practice of local food provisioning Attempts to save community gardens make them desired amenities for newcomers 
Local food movements usher in new development aimed at newcomers Immigrant communities link threat to ethnic foodways and colonialism Community gardens fail to include local residents and gentrify community-led food security efforts 
Foodways can be co-opted by gentrifying forces:Community changes can be experienced through foodways:Well-intended food projects can still support gentrification:
Developers embrace urban agriculture for redevelopment Hipster food retail “discovers” and markets existing foodways to newcomers Savior entrepreneur restaurants spur displacement through revitalizing downtown 
Ethical gentrification framing justifies reinvention of working class foodways Newcomers’ practice of “urban agriculture” is disconnected from long-term practice of local food provisioning Attempts to save community gardens make them desired amenities for newcomers 
Local food movements usher in new development aimed at newcomers Immigrant communities link threat to ethnic foodways and colonialism Community gardens fail to include local residents and gentrify community-led food security efforts 

Courtesy of Alison Hope Alkon, Yuki Kato, and Joshua Sbicca

Michael Chrobok:

What can the field of food studies add to scholarship on gentrification, and vice versa?

JS:

Our volume attempts to push food studies to engage with other critical bodies of work such as urban studies, gentrification studies, and critical race studies. I think it is important for food studies to work laterally and intersectionally to enrich its analysis. Food scholarship offers the study of gentrification something distinct as well. A lot of gentrification scholars focus on housing, high-value developments, or parks and things of that sort, and their impact on gentrification. Food has been a nebulous but also intelligible way of interpreting gentrification. Food allows us to trace gentrification—either across geographies or within cases—in a more systematic way. Our volume urges students of gentrification to take seriously the role of taste and to take seriously how taste intersects with political economy.

YK:

“It’s housing and development” is an extremely limited way of thinking about what gentrification does. We often tend to focus on residential gentrification, not necessarily commercial gentrification, and commercial gentrification usually precedes residential gentrification. I think, in that way, food helps us see the broader processes and multiple dimensions of gentrification. There are psychological and cultural aspects to gentrification that can only be understood through a political economy lens—the value that culture adds to “loft living.” There are both symbolic and tangible ways in which we relate to food because food is something that we buy, consume quite literally. Food is much more an everyday activity, as Joshua highlighted. That everyday aspect of food makes it more effective in seeing the macro-level forces that create business opportunities and displace both business owners and customers. Food also reveals what the experience of displacement feels like. Food allows us to see a very micro-level experience of gentrification—something our volume also captures. We look at how food manifests and symbolizes the experience and process of gentrification in different places and at different points in time.

AA:

In some ways, answering the question of what gentrification brings to food studies is the easier question. There is—pardon the pun—an appetite in the food studies world, especially in the critical food studies world, for thinking about the unintended consequences of grassroots movements to make food more sustainable. On the question of what food brings to gentrification, I have one thing to add. A lot of gentrification studies, particularly the foundational ones and the ones that take culture very seriously, say something like, “Oh, it’s so much easier to study the culture of the newcomers because it’s hard to study the people who have left. We don’t know where they went.” One of the things that’s very clear in our volume is that people don’t leave all at once. People are reacting to the changing foodscapes wrought by gentrification in a way that makes them feel excluded and invisible, even while they are still there. They feel like the plan has been laid for their exodus, even though they haven’t gotten kicked out of their houses yet. If we’re going to understand the lived experience of gentrification, food is one of the ways that people talk about gentrification in everyday life. I mean, “Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado,” right? Not to let that coffee shop do our theorizing for us, but there’s something about the experience of the foodscape changing that lets people know that gentrification is happening. Something about the foodscape changing puts people on guard and gets them to think about the larger structural changes that may be following the appearance of a coffee shop.

JJ:

As the average Gastronomica reader is not a gentrification scholar, could we step back for a moment and offer a working definition of gentrification?

AA:

For me, the two main elements of gentrification are development and displacement. There are new businesses, people, and processes coming in and creating increased rent values—a rent gap between the way that capital perceives the costs they can pay now versus the profits they can make in the long run. Then there’s displacement—the act of long-term residents being pushed out. I think it’s important for people in food studies to understand that while the popular media tends to focus on individuals who are moving into new neighborhoods, the problem is not limited to individual people. The fundamental responsibility for gentrification lies with city governments and boosters—like realtors, developers, and people who work in the public relations office for a city. I recently listened to a podcast about a great book called Chasing World-Class Urbanism. It’s ethnographically set in Buenos Aires, but it really could be written about so many different cities. It discusses the ways that local governments are making decisions in a new institutionalist way, based on what other cities see as prestigious. Everyone is trying to foster a creative class of wealthy, white residents. Sidenote: I hate the idea that some people are “creative” and others aren’t! But the work to attract this creative class starts long before those residents actually show up. In Oakland, long before people were talking about gentrification, former California Governor Jerry Brown put out a city plan that said he wanted 10,000 new residents in Oakland. Long before we saw new restaurants, that plan was guiding city development decisions. When I think about what I want people who read Gastronomica to know about gentrification is that things are bigger and more structural than they initially appear to be.

JS:

I would add one other piece that I think is really important in terms of the process of gentrification. Before a neighborhood experiences economic decline or revitalization, there is a process of disinvestment that usually takes place; this sets the stage for future development. If you look at the United States especially, this disinvestment is a racialized process grounded in histories of redlining, racial covenants, blockbusting, and various other practices that have directly targeted communities of color and immigrant communities. I think it is important for food studies scholars to understand that process. There is so much research, for example, on urban agriculture, but unless we have a deep, historical conversation about the places where that work is taking place, then we’re not doing service to the research itself, nor the communities that may be benefiting, nor the communities that may be having struggles to grow food within cities. Racialized disinvestment is a piece of the conversation on gentrification that is really important—a piece that comes before displacement and “upscaling.”

YK:

Our edited volume features cities that are typically not thought of in association with gentrification. So much academic writing and media coverage of gentrification is on hyper-gentrifying cities, whether it’s San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles. We try to feature smaller cities. I don’t think Oklahoma City is necessarily at the top of everybody’s list of gentrifying cities, but gentrification is happening in so many different places and at different paces. We want people who pick up our book to think about this. What gentrification looks like and feels like depends on the city. In some places, there is a perfect storm facilitating gentrification; in others, perhaps the city government has been pushing for redevelopments, but nothing has quite taken off yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted those processes. But gentrification happens everywhere, or it could happen everywhere—it’s just that the pace and scale might vary. One other thing I want to add is that we typically think of gentrification as whites affecting communities of color, but it’s not necessarily always that simple. For example, there are conversations around Black middle classes moving into areas that are historically Black low-income or perhaps historically other immigrant communities. There are a lot of complex issues in terms of who is a gentrifier, and I think we should be a little more cautious about not just singularly blaming the gentrifying population.

JJ/MC:

In popular discourse, people often tend to want a normative approach to gentrification. How would you talk to the person who says, “Tell me, from what you know about gentrification, is this good or is this bad?” How would you try to help them move beyond that?

AA:

I think gentrification is bad. That’s not to say that there aren’t positives or opportunities that can come out of it, but in terms of, “Does this amplify or ameliorate inequalities in terms of race and class?”—the answer is very clear: it makes things worse. Some of the folks who write about eco-gentrification or green gentrification, like Hillary Angelo, have been talking about how displacement pressures lead to so much more commuting. When you “green” a city—opening parks and having more green space development—maybe the carbon footprint of that city decreases a little bit. But if the people who work in that city have gotten pushed further and further away and are driving back every day, then is the carbon footprint decreasing or just being displaced? So, I think, environmentally, gentrification tends to be a net negative. There are opportunities within gentrification—for example, young chefs of color, especially Black, Mexican, and Indigenous chefs, finding opportunities for their talents in gentrified communities that want diverse, hip foodways. If you look the last five years at who has won James Beard Foundation Awards, it’s almost all people of color. Netflix series like High on the Hog and Salt Fat Acid Heat are providing chefs of color a bigger and better media presence than they have had. That’s not to say that they’re touching the capital power of white chefs, but they’re doing better. But it seems to me that as the arm of the food justice movement that is about culinary justice and creating these sorts of individual opportunities succeeds, the needs of communities writ large—poverty, hunger—may not be addressed.

JS:

I think this brings up a larger set of questions. What is development? What is equitable development? And development for whom? It would be an anti-progressive position to say that a community of color, a low-income community, or an immigrant community doesn’t deserve to have improvements in their physical infrastructure, access to food, ability to open fancy restaurants, afford land to grow food, and so on. One of the questions I’ve been grappling with is, can you have development without displacement in a capitalist urbanization context? That question has forced me to think critically about what it means to do food justice work. Food justice work can’t simply be getting food to people or the politics of representation. It needs to be anti-capitalist—or at least democratic socialist. It needs to engage with other movements that seek to lift the boats in all communities, make sure that people have living wages, make sure that land is affordable, that people can either grow food in cities or afford housing in cities, or create mixed-use developments that uplift communities of color, restaurants, grocers, et cetera. These are the questions that I’ve been grappling a lot with. So, for me, it’s not so much good or bad—it’s how do we take this conversation around gentrification and use it to think differently about what development looks like in our cities?

Figure 1:

“Streets” was a meal, gathering, protest, and performance art piece offered by Oakland’s People’s Kitchen Collective to five hundred members of their community on May 20, 2018. Part four of a series of similar events (the first three focused on farm, kitchen, and table), the project was designed as “a reclamation of the commons, of the streets that are rapidly being disconnected from their history through gentrification” (http://peopleskitchencollective.com/streets). Held on the birthdays of Malcolm X and Japanese American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, and on the block where Black Panther Lil’ Bobby Hutton was murdered by the police, the event urged food activists to link their work to broader struggles for social, racial, and economic justice.

Photo by Sana Javeri Kadri © 2018

Figure 1:

“Streets” was a meal, gathering, protest, and performance art piece offered by Oakland’s People’s Kitchen Collective to five hundred members of their community on May 20, 2018. Part four of a series of similar events (the first three focused on farm, kitchen, and table), the project was designed as “a reclamation of the commons, of the streets that are rapidly being disconnected from their history through gentrification” (http://peopleskitchencollective.com/streets). Held on the birthdays of Malcolm X and Japanese American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, and on the block where Black Panther Lil’ Bobby Hutton was murdered by the police, the event urged food activists to link their work to broader struggles for social, racial, and economic justice.

Photo by Sana Javeri Kadri © 2018

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YK:

I think what I can add is the question, good for whom? Gentrification will always be good for some people—otherwise it wouldn’t be happening. There have been studies that show there are some temporary transitional positives where there is a decline in crime rates, or increasing amenities, or improvements in infrastructure—things that long-term residents could benefit from. But that may be temporary because as soon as residents are like, “Oh, our neighborhood is actually getting better,” they’re like, “Oh wait, I can’t afford the rent,” or, “I can’t keep up with the property tax,” and so they get displaced. I think it’s easy to see that gentrification is not good for long-term residents, but is it necessarily always good for the gentrifier? In a lot of hyper-gentrifying cities, even the earlier gentrifiers can no longer afford to stay. That cycle, that temporary benefit, seems to just always be churning, and eventually that benefit and access to those improvements seems to tap out. So, if we ask the question of who’s ultimately benefiting, it’s a very small percentage of the people who control the land. We also need to pay attention to the speculative aspect of developments. People are being displaced not necessarily because somebody is buying a house, but because somebody is holding the land. There are many things that can be implemented if we look at what’s really happening behind the scenes, and I think we’ve already touched upon who’s really making those big decisions.

MC:

I want to pick up on the point about the cities that you feature in your book. In your view, is food gentrification a distinctly North American phenomenon? Why or why not?

AA:

I don’t think it is, but I’m not sure that I have enough research behind me to say for certain. Catarina Passidomo did a Fulbright right before COVID-19, and she was looking at culinary revivalism in Lima, Peru. Food gentrification seemed like what was going on there. In its quest to be a world-class city and tourist destination, Lima has a lot to draw on in terms of the actual practices of Peruvian cuisine. They seem to be pushing that in a way that would make certain tourist-destination neighborhoods in Lima become even more upscale. There are tons of AirBnBs…I don’t know enough about the hidden parts of it—the speculators and the city government—but it does seem to be what’s happening there, based tentatively on what I know of Catarina’s work.2 I imagine that to also be true if you think about cities that have engaged in culinary diplomacy or gastrodiplomacy, where they’re really using their foodways to boost tourism and prestige in the world system. Oaxaca in Mexico strikes me as a city that’s doing that. So, it does seem like something that cities are engaging in, and we do know from studies of tourism and gentrification that as cities try to increase their tourism, they become sites of gentrification, too. I was recently awarded a Fulbright to study these processes in Barcelona. I know that’s still a Western context, but it does seem that if you look at the ways Barcelona has pitched its own development—the so-called Barcelona model of development—restaurants, outdoor dining, local food, and local markets are all very much a part of what they think are going to bring in increasingly more tourists to the country, even though their primary tourist market is conference tourism. They’re the number one conference destination in the world, but people want to have their conferences there because of all these other amenities. So, it does seem to be happening there. There are folks who work at the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability who have written about food and gentrification in Vietnam, Toronto, and Medellín in Colombia. So, it seems like though food gentrification may be happening in different ways, something parallel is happening in many parts of the world.

JS:

One thing I would add to that and reiterate is the connection between tourism and gentrification. If we begin from the premise that capital doesn’t respect borders and boundaries, and that people with capital often bring similar tastes with them around the world, then we can expect these trends to take place in a lot of different contexts. Whether it’s North America, Southeast Asia, or Europe, these trends are happening. I’ve also been reading some recent work taking place in other cities around the world, including places like Florence, Italy, trying to build on their gourmand legacy. That again is tied directly to tourism and taps into various kinds of tastes, “authentic” cuisines, and a desire for those tastes. The question for me is one about the urban agriculture side of things, which is a big part of our volume—focusing not just on consumption but on food production. I wonder the degree to which we are seeing rural gentrification in farming contexts around the world. As capital moves, people want hobby farms, or people want land where there were formerly pastoralists or peasant farmers who are being displaced due to various kinds of land speculation and land grabbing. Maybe that’s a slightly different process than gentrification, but it has some parallels that I think we could be attentive to. We should extend our lenses to look more critically at rural spaces as well.

YK:

One thing I do see in Washington, DC—and perhaps in many other cities around the world that have that level of global investment—is what both Joshua and Alison pointed out: the foodscape and culinary economy of a lot of cities seems to be changing. Gentrification isn’t just residential. If the food economy is changing and long-standing local food establishments are being pushed out, then I think we can call this gentrification—even if it’s not necessarily residential in the way that we typically talk about it. Tourists nowadays may be interested in “sustainable,” “farm to table” food—terms that have been remarketed to attract certain customers. If restaurateurs selling old-fashioned food are being priced out of the real estate market and can no longer keep up a restaurant that might have been in their family for generations, this is a type of displacement, and it has real consequences for the local economy and population. It raises important questions. Who gets to live and work in the city? What does the food culture of that city look like? How might it be preserved? For whom?

JJ:

What does food gentrification tell us about foodies and their taste preferences—how they are emerging, how they are globalizing, and how they are related to various forms of privilege?

JS:

There’s a great essay by Tunde Wey, a Nigerian chef and racial justice and food justice activist3, called “Welcome to Whateverwhere’s Newest American Restaurant.” In this piece, he makes the case that tastes are monocultures based on race and class. He paints with a broad brush in making this case, but I think it’s a provocative way to think about the ways in which you can now get foodie tastes anywhere. You can get avocado toast anywhere. You can get kale smoothies anywhere. You can get fancy banh-mis anywhere. They’re no longer that distinct. What does it mean when what were formerly unique foodways become monolithic? If we think about the legacies of “organic” and “sustainable,” and the ways in which big corporations get a hold of these ideas and then generalize them, I think we are seeing the same thing happening as it pertains to foodie tastes in the context of gentrification.

YK:

I think social media has expanded the way people use food consumption as a signal of their status and cultural interest. I think it has expanded the motivation for why people consume what they consume. Sometimes it seems as though taking a photo is more important than consuming food itself. But I also do think that there has been some self-questioning by people who have been engaged in this, especially in light of conversations around issues of race, gender, and privilege in terms of who should be speaking about authenticity. I think that is a very complicated conversation, and I hope that conversation isn’t just going to go away after last year. That said, we must think about who is driving those kinds of consumer behaviors. I think businesses are invested in being featured in Instagram posts by influencers, so I want to be careful not to say that foodies are somehow driving this themselves. I think foodies have been heavily marketed to, instructed to, and invested in by capitalism, as Joshua has so aptly pointed out. I don’t know who’s really driving taste anymore, at this very moment, compared to when Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann’s book, Foodies, first came out.

AA:

I want to go back to Yuki’s point about how gentrification isn’t actually good for the people who supposedly benefit. Early gentrifiers come into a neighborhood and help make it hot, so to speak, and that drives up prices to a point where the people who are gentrifying a neighborhood can’t even afford it. I think there’s a parallel here with what’s going on with foodies. The search for unique experiences is becoming watered down. The things that used to seem particular to particular places or particular chefs are no longer that particular. You no longer have to go to New York to get pizza or go to New Orleans for particular kinds of Cajun food. Now, people from New Orleans who were the object of these foodie pursuits are opening chains of restaurants across the country. So, distinction is harder to come by. I was also thinking about Lisa Heldke’s book on culinary tourism and culinary imperialism—and I’m missing the exact phrase for how she talks about things, but I wonder if this idea that you have to go to Thailand to eat this particular kind of food…okay, well, now there’s world-class Thai restaurants all over the world, right? Have we damaged our understanding of what makes a place unique and special in a way that is going to be culturally less rich for foodies?

MC:

What does food gentrification tell us about the ways that we have planned and built our towns and cities, and the ways that we could or should plan and build our towns and cities in the future?

YK:

Not to discount the importance of political engagement at the local level, but I do think that hyper-localized engagement in making these changes seems to be more impactful, at least in an immediate sense. At the same time, I think paying attention to comprehensive plans for cities—what the ideas are, whose ideas are being represented in these kinds of grand visions—is just as important. I just finished reviewing Melissa Checker’s The Sustainability Myth. One of the things that really struck me is how even local activists, in their efforts to bring about sustainable cities, are often being co-opted to make it seem like, “Oh, we had community engagement and so our plan is equitable,” or something like that. I think that’s always a very risky endeavor for a lot of local activists. The challenge is the balance. I don’t think you can just put all your battles in city councils and planning meetings in the hopes that, somehow, they will do the right thing. I think you do need to push there, but at the same time, I think there must be a localized effort that doesn’t rely on foundation money, the goodwill of local officials, or the generosity of developers. I think efforts like mutual aid have been directly, immediately impactful and need to continue to show what is possible. I think it’s hard for many of us to think that those changes are possible. Prefigurative actions are meaningful to show that, yes, you can live in an equitable city; yes, you can live in a city where nobody goes hungry; yes, you can provide affordable, healthy food. I think many of us—maybe not the ones on this panel, but many of us—have ingrained this idea that those ideals are just a pipe dream. I think showing that those things actually can happen, and then pushing at the local level, is essential.

JS:

I really like this question, and it gets me to think about the tension between food as a commodity, cultural foods, and our cultural attachments to land. Food gentrification forces us to grapple with the messiness of when those things get combined. Let’s say we go back to the New Orleans example and the rich cultural foods and the rich attachments to land that many people have in that city. Then you think about the role of tourism as an effort to generate capital and enrich people. Those two things can become in tension. So, one of the lessons, in some respects, for me, around paying attention to food gentrification is the need to think more critically about what we commodify and the consequences of doing so—especially when we’re talking about something that is so important to the essence of being human, which is to eat and to build community and conviviality around food and growing food. The future development of our cities needs to, again, take seriously challenging what we commodify and think more creatively about how we build food systems and how we sustain ourselves as a people and as peoples. These are humongous challenges, and by no means do I have any answers. I just would like us to have more honest conversations around this tension.

AA:

That was well said, both of you. We end our book by talking about policies that have been passed at various levels to try to stem gentrification or lessen the effects of displacement. We talk about things like rent control and different kinds of targeted investments in low-income communities in a way that makes sure those communities are garnering the benefit of investments. I think there are all kinds of policy tools that can be used to make sure that the right to the city becomes something equitable, but cities tend not to use them. I think that there are no incentives for cities to want economically and racially diverse residents. In the capitalist world we live in, the rewards for cities come from having the highest tax base and the highest prestige. That seems to be associated with wealthier, white residents and certain kinds of cultural trends that come with wealthy, white gentrifiers. Until there’s something in it for cities to have economically as well as racially diverse communities, then I’m not sure cities are really that interested in stemming the tide of gentrification. I think they want to push out all their low-income Black and Brown residents and invite in speculators and white, wealthy residents. The three of us are working together on a chapter for a volume called Radical Food Geography, trying to think about how the relationship between food and gentrification has changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the pandemic has shown us some real merits of organizing: a two-year moratorium on evictions—that’s huge; increased funding for food assistance—that’s huge; the development of mutual aid networks all over the country that have done tremendous amounts of good and made dire situations somewhat less dire; a reinvigoration in food workers’ rights campaigns—all this stuff. I think there’s potential in understanding the links between food and gentrification to fuel all that organizing. But in the long term, I tend to be really pessimistic, and I think cities are invested in pushing people out. If the poor people and the Brown and Black people go elsewhere, city officials often think that that is better for them. I don’t know how to throw a wrench into that. I don’t know how to intervene there. It seems that all the incentives are pointing the wrong way.

JJ:

What advice would you have for people trying to eat responsibly?

YK:

One thing I tell my students who take my environmental and food justice course is to think about how to eat right, but also that there is really no way to do it perfectly. One of the things that is very humbling about food is that we have to eat. There are so many things that you can opt out of, to say, “Okay, I’m not going to drive,” or, “I’m not going to do X, Y, and Z to be principled.” Perhaps you’re able to say, “I don’t have to bear the burden of that responsibility because I decided not to.” But with food, unless you’re going the Soylent route, you have to eat. I would like people to think about that as an opportunity—to really sit with that little bit of discomfort and think about where their privileges come in as they eat, rather than to think that, “If I actually become this kind of consumer, then I am okay.” I think that’s often the desire: to be better or guilt-free. We need to accept the fact that we are all responsible in all of this in some ways. If more people thought of this more often while enjoying food as often as they can, I think that’s better than just opting out. That’s my suggestion.

Table 2:

Three Scales of Food Justice Action to Combat Gentrification

MicroMesoMacro
Organize dinner conversations around racial inequality and gentrification

Patronize locally owned food businesses of longstanding community members

Learn about the history of local working class and ethnoracial foodways 
Support existing food justice organizations

Support existing community-based organizations mobilizing against gentrification

Create organizations that ensure staff, board, and membership reflect surrounding community

New food business owners hire surrounding community and keep food affordable

Community controlled land trusts for urban food production 
Community benefit agreements for new food retail that mandates pay and benefits that are commensurate with neighborhood's cost of living

Neighborhood zoning that preserves local food businesses and encourages new long-term resident-run food businesses

Legal guarantee of living wages and full healthcare benefits for essential food chain workers

Legalize and protect street food vending businesses

Mandates that mixed-use development requires food retail that meets community needs

Right to land for food production for low-income people and people of color 
MicroMesoMacro
Organize dinner conversations around racial inequality and gentrification

Patronize locally owned food businesses of longstanding community members

Learn about the history of local working class and ethnoracial foodways 
Support existing food justice organizations

Support existing community-based organizations mobilizing against gentrification

Create organizations that ensure staff, board, and membership reflect surrounding community

New food business owners hire surrounding community and keep food affordable

Community controlled land trusts for urban food production 
Community benefit agreements for new food retail that mandates pay and benefits that are commensurate with neighborhood's cost of living

Neighborhood zoning that preserves local food businesses and encourages new long-term resident-run food businesses

Legal guarantee of living wages and full healthcare benefits for essential food chain workers

Legalize and protect street food vending businesses

Mandates that mixed-use development requires food retail that meets community needs

Right to land for food production for low-income people and people of color 

Courtesy of Alison Hope Alkon, Yuki Kato, and Joshua Sbicca

AA:

I think everything Yuki said is great. There’s no one right way to do it. Too often, when we’re talking to people with more privilege and power, there’s a lot of anxiety around getting it right, doing it right, and then judging other people for doing it wrong—even if that’s not your intention. Stepping back from that judgment is important. Pressure Cooker, by Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott, is a good book for people to look at about understanding deep empathy. What are people’s circumstances? What are people’s realities? How are we all trying to make the best choices we can? If people really want dietary advice, I do think there’s some benefit of trying to support people of color in all parts of the food system, whether that’s farmers, restaurateurs, food processing companies, or food media writers. There is value in at least getting a hold on the diversity piece, even if that doesn’t get you to the equity piece. But I also think there’s value in understanding the limitations of what “what you can do” does. I hope people don’t only want dietary advice, because I also want to encourage them to get involved in activism, in mutual aid, and in local policy. I know there are limits to what local policy can do—and I hear you loud and clear, Yuki—but I also think that it doesn’t get better if we all sit at home. There are lots of ways that people who have the privilege to be thinking to this degree, with this amount of energy, about each food choice—walking around the grocery store trying to figure out if oat milk or almond milk is more sustainable, which I have been there—maybe some of that energy can be moved to finding a mutual aid group to be involved with, creating community around food across class and racial lines in whatever ways seem open to you, and in organizing. There are all kinds of organizations—anti-pesticide groups that have done a tremendous job in the last couple of years of taking on things like chlorpyrifos. There was a recent court ruling upholding the banning of chlorpyrifos and making sure that farmworkers and their kids are not getting sprayed with this stuff, regardless of how they opt in or out to eat. Thinking about the more collective responses that can make food safer and healthier for everyone and thinking about the more collective responses that can keep people in the spaces they want to live in, urban or rural, is key.

MC:

Finally, given that—as you emphasized—we can still enjoy food while thinking about its implications and our responses, do you have a favorite meal or something that you like to eat, either at home or in a restaurant?

YK:

This is a very cliché answer, but it’s probably my mother’s cooking—which is really interesting because it’s not necessarily Japanese food. I grew up in Japan, but it’s not necessarily Japanese food that my mother cooks that I miss. It’s, like, apple pie that my mother made, which is very different from an American way of making an apple pie. I think, especially during the pandemic, I look back to things that were comforting. My mind didn’t necessarily go to authentic Japanese foods because I don’t know what that means, but to me, my favorite was my mother’s apple pie.

JS:

I grew up in North County, San Diego, California, in the suburbs, but it was really class diverse and ethnoracially diverse. There was a large Mexican American population, and I grew up going to taquerias and Mexican American–owned family restaurants from a super young age. My parents grew up in San Diego, too, and Mexican food has always felt like comfort food to me. It’s been a go-to anywhere in the world I travel to, or anywhere that I live. It’s something that not only fills my stomach but makes my nose run, which I really like. I like spicy food. That’s the other piece. I remember my dad always ordered pickled jalapeños and carrots on the side at every taqueria, and as a kid, I’m like, “This is really spicy. I don’t know how you eat this all the time.” As an adult, I find myself doing the same thing. Mexican food is just this deep love of mine.

AA:

I love all kinds of food. I’ve had a lot of challenges this year in terms of managing little kids and teaching and the pandemic—and I don’t mean “I have” like no one else has, but—not having a lot of external childcare, being very cautious, and not wanting to send my kids to preschool or things like that while being expected at my job to act like everything’s fine. I think my favorite food right now is anything all four members of my family will eat without having to make variations on a meal. So, at this point, that includes pizza with toppings on only the adult part of the pizza or fried rice. Of all the things my whole family will eat, fried rice is probably my favorite—being able to take some out for a kid that’s picky and then throw some more stuff in the pan and keep going. I think that’s my comfort food right now…and maybe what I’m having for dinner tonight.

1.

A cortado is a hot drink consisting of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, typically without foam. Originating in the Basque Country, the beverage gets its name from the Spanish word cortar, meaning “to cut”—as one would “cut” or dilute espresso or coffee with milk. A popular and inexpensive drink in places like Spain, the availability and pricing of the cortado in some gentrifying North American neighborhoods may symbolize changing foodscapes and efforts to cater to foodie tastes.

2.

Readers can learn more about Catarina Passidomo’s work by visiting www.catarinapassidomo.com.

3.

Readers can learn more about Tunde Wey’s work by visiting www.fromlagos.com.

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