Three Detroit food entrepreneurs celebrated Black History Month by exploring Africa’s foundational role in Black food. Taste the Diaspora Detroit’s menu showcases a variety of cuisines with a connection to the continent while supporting local food makers and farmers.
Amid a pandemic and global racial reckoning, the timing couldn’t have been better. Taste the Diaspora meals sold out immediately. The meals were presented as shoebox lunches, a nod to the food boxes used by Black people traveling across the country during the Jim Crow era.
Ederique Goudia, co-organizer of Taste the Diaspora and founder of In the Business of Food, says she was “very surprised” at how quickly the lunches sold out. She said it was the perfect time to launch a project centered around helping Black Detroiters.
“This project is really to center Black chefs, restaurants, farmers, food makers, particularly at a time where, of course, this pandemic has affected all of us,” she said.
The project highlights Caribbean, Creole and American Southern cuisine. Taste the Diaspora’s chefs relied on food from Black farmers and food makers to create recipes made essential in the diaspora. Red Red — a Ghanian dish made with black eyes peas, tomatoes and palm oil — plantains and Jollof rice kicked off the project’s first week.
Azeezah Ford, a local farmer and chef, said Taste the Diaspora helped provide “healthy, flavorful” meals while offering a sense of community during a time many feel isolated because of the pandemic.
Le’Genevieve Squires, co-founder and executive chef at Experience Relish, said she joined the project because strengthening local food systems helps “feed” and “support” the community.
“If you aren’t, it’s important to start being in the know of who the Black farmers are and who the farmers are in your community,” Squires said.
Goudia said that, with Taste the Diaspora’s early success, the group plans to expand its network of chefs, farmers and recipes, but will need additional funding.
“We would like to include even more Black chefs, farmers and food makers next time, but that would require us to use a larger infrastructure, which is where more funding would come in,” Goudia said.
Although she declined to give specific information about the project’s funding needs, Goudia encourages people who want to get involved to donate to Taste the Diaspora and its partner organizations.
“There’s a need for what we can provide, which is why we want to continue supporting our Black food businesses in this way,” she said.
The initiative is using all of its proceeds from the shoebox lunches — about $10,000 total — to pay the Black chefs who are participating, all of whom had their businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. That means each of the eight chefs will receive about $1,250.
- Detroit small businesses create virtual marketplaces for shopping amid COVID
- ‘You have to be nimble’: Four Black-owned small businesses on weathering the pandemic
Last year, a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 41 percent of Black-owned businesses — some 440,000 enterprises nationwide — have been shuttered by COVID-19, compared to just 17 percent of white-owned businesses.
Raphael Wright, co-organizer of Taste the Diaspora and founder of Neighborhood Grocery, said he’s excited to spread a deeper awareness of just how influential the African continent’s culinary styles have been.
“Black people’s contribution to American food isn’t accepted nearly enough, so we decided to use Black History Month to not only celebrate but to bring awareness to one of the most essential ways that African slaves and their descendants built and carried this nation through food,” Wright said.
Visit Taste of the Diaspora Detroit’s website for a full menu and a list of chefs and farmers involved. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BridgeDet313, and don’t forget to subscribe for FREE to get more content about your city.