Feasts of Resistance: Understanding Conflict Through Food

A Chicago cooking series helped participants learn about and support refugee issues over delicious meals.


Can we all better understand global conflict around the dinner table? Two non-profits in Chicago say yes.

“Food shapes culture and conflict shapes food. Resistance doesn’t only take the form of protests and marches—it’s in the food we share, the stories we tell, the gardens we grow,” says the Peterson Garden Project about the Feasts of Resistance cooking class series that just wrapped up on August 3.

The Chicago-based community garden and cooking school program is asking residents to “explore, cook, and eat iconic dishes from around the world—Burma to Ethiopia, Syria to Haiti, and beyond—that were created or affected by social or political unrest.” The classes are co-sponsored with GirlForward. This non-profit provides mentorship, community and leadership opportunities for displaced young women in Chicago and Austin, Texas.

Peterson Garden Project’s founder LaManda Joy previously explained how the program was inspired by WWII Victory Gardens to teach people how to grow and cook food in Chicago. But addressing global conflict through the kitchen and garden is a new focus. Here, Joy explains more about this project.

What do you hope to achieve with the new Feasts of Resistance program?

We hope quite simply to help people get a small understanding of the refugee experience through the lens of food—our shared common denominator.

What would you like to communicate with these cooking classes?

Our message is that conflict influences food and always has. There’s power in those untold stories of the past and the new food stories that are being written through the conflicts of today.

Tell us about Peterson Garden Project’s cooking and gardening classes at Camp GirlForward. Why are they important?

Camp GirlForward is a six-week summer program that engages girls from dozens of countries to experience Chicago, and their place in it, in new ways. While the girls’ classes will be the same as our general public classes, we’re going to be bringing in women chefs and have the girls as immersed in the process as much as possible.

The feasts we picked (except Haiti) are from the girls’ countries of origin. We hope that, after Camp GirlForward, they will be empowered to tell—and teach—their own stories related to food and conflict.

Why did you decide to partner with GirlForward on cooking and gardening classes?

Action starts at home. GirlForward is a nonprofit in one of the neighborhoods where we have a Pop-up Victory garden and also our Community Cooking School. We figured this program could not only help the girls understand their place in the long history of conflict as it relates to food, but it would also help our neighborhood get engaged in a tangible way.

Anything you’d like to add?

If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “Less talk, more do,” when I was growing up then I would be wealthy.

We want our neighbors to understand the refugee experience in a way everyone can understand (food) so they can take action in our communities. Since everything is better sitting at the dinner table, we thought we’d start there and hope that more action, and understanding, follows.

A version of this article originally appeared on UC Food Observer, and is reprinted with permission.

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