Historically, African Americans have been the foundation of the service and hospitality industry in the United States. And yet, this group hasn’t typically had forums to connect and build power together at the national level.
That’s where Resistance Served enters the picture. Founded by Ashtin Berry and Kisira Hill, and produced by their creative content agency Radical Xchange, the conference gathers people from the food and beverage industries to celebrate the work of Black and African Americans in the field of hospitality through workshops, meals, and experiential events.
Early this month, 289 people from across the U.S. convened for its second annual four-day symposium in New Orleans. The theme for 2020 was labor and sustainability.
Civil Eats attended Resistance Served and spoke with organizers and participants about their food stories, the biggest challenges they face in their communities, and what drew them to the conference.
Ashtin Berry, Community Architect of Radical Xchange
How did you come to create Resistance Served? What was the motivation?
Resistance Served was created in response to exhaustion from hearing conference speaker after conference speaker address diversity, while simultaneously tokenizing the POC and specifically Black people attending. It was created to make space for Black people to be centered and for conversations that directly affect them to go further in-depth.
What was the inspiration for this year’s theme?
This year built off of the conference’s first year, which delved into the historical foundations of hospitality in America—from the plantation to what we now know as restaurants. Labor is something that is often invisible for most members of our community, and sustainability has been mostly whitewashed by the media—especially in the food and beverage sectors. Sustainability is [rooted in] an Indigenous practice that centers the community. Community sustainability is necessary for all of our survival and joy, and focusing the conference on these two subjects that appear non-related allows us to have a more in-depth look at what resources we need to be successful in hospitality and beyond.
Lindsey Lunsford, Sustainable Food Systems Resource Specialist at Tuskegee University, Attendee at Resistance Served
What brought you to Resistance Served?
I had a recommendation from a colleague of mine, who told me it was literally the best conference she’s ever been to. We met at BUGS, the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners’ Conference in Pittsburgh, and I loved that conference, so I trusted her taste.
When I saw all the beautiful imagery associated with Resistance Served, it drew me in. Also, I’m a food systems specialist, and when you look at food systems there are four basic parts: Production, Processing, Transportation, Consumption. On the agriculture side, especially, I feel like a lot is focused on those first two or three levels, and not consumption, unless it’s healthy eating or nutrition. Consumption includes hospitality—the people that serve the food. Those worlds to me feel very disparate. I can’t call myself a food systems specialist if I don’t know about cooks and chefs, too. Aren’t they just as important as farmers? So that’s what really drew me.
What are the biggest issues that you see with food and food systems in your community?
I would say the Black Belt, this whole region, suffers from food system issues. It’s structural racism at every level of the food system. Policy when it comes to agriculture and land loss—the trauma of dealing with that. Playing catch up and then production and aggregation and distribution, and even consumption and what we eat.
I deal a lot with foodways, where culture and food intersect, which includes all the strain that surrounds our food and what we choose to feed ourselves. Also, how certain foods become Black foods and then they also become “bad” foods—but when other people eat those same foods, then they’re not “bad,” or they get glorified at such high levels.
Pork is a perfect example. Check this article. The hottest new bar in NYC is a Ham Bar? They are calling it “pork belly” now, as if that makes it haute cuisine and not good ol’ hog meat. But if “we” eat ham or pork it is still stigmatized. Fried chicken and watermelon are other examples. At a company picnic, a Caucasian co-worker could freely gorge on both of these items free of stigma, while I, as a Black woman, would feel the shame of being seen thoroughly enjoying these foods in public.
These are some of the after-effects of dealing with structural racism.
Were there any people here at the conference who inspired you?
Zella Palmer—she’s definitely a food hero. It was just nice to be back in her orbit and I got to get a copy of her book. I met the ladies of Tanám, which is a restaurant in Boston and all four of the co-owners came. That was really cool to see young women of color owning a restaurant in Boston.
Angie Provost, Farmer, Visual Artist and Activist and June Provost, Fourth-Generation Sugar Cane Farmer, Landowner, Activist
How would you describe your relationship to food and agriculture?
Angie: Our relationship to food and agriculture is tied into our DNA. I think that’s the best way to describe it because our relationship to the land and what we eat, it’s so based on ancestors and what our parents and grandparents have taught us and those things are intrinsically from the African diaspora. We are very tied to our family roots and our roots to the earth and how the earth supplies us with our food and food sovereignty.
June: I always say if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you. That’s something we always go by.
In your experience what are the biggest issues and/or challenges you see with farming in Louisiana?
Angie: There are three issues: the top tier is racism and discrimination. The second tier is racism and discrimination interpreted through policy. And then with policy you affect the community, the family, and the [individual] person.
How do you think people who are interested in farming or just starting out should educate themselves about policy?
Angie: June and I, we come from multi-generational farming families and I think that our awareness of policy came out of our own experience with racism and discrimination as we advanced our way through the agriculture system and the food industry.
I think if someone’s starting out, what they need to do is get very familiar with how every key topic that that affects us as Black people—be it voter rights, housing discrimination, climate change, the wealth gap, food apartheid—are all intrinsically tied to land. Who has it? Who owns it and who controls it? If you can base your own governing of your farm in that knowledge then I think you can be free to understand and, like, woke to the fact of everything that is tied to our DNA and our lineage is tied to the reparations that are needed.
When June talks about how “if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you,” what she is actually talking about is that connection. We have gone through hardships where policy has not been on our side. The laws were not written for us as African people, right? The laws were written for European settlers for their “manifest destiny.” And yet no matter your suffering, your hardships, you will be OK because Mother Earth will take care of you if you are true to your core as a human being.
When people talk about farming they tend to focus on the hardships. What are some of the positive sides that don’t get enough attention?
Angie: There’s nothing that comes out of community development that doesn’t involve agriculture. Agriculture is everything. It’s not just food production. It’s land production. It’s taking care of our climate and our earth. It’s all the products that we use. It’s a cooperative. So not only does it take care of the land and us as people, but it takes care of us as a community. All of us together.
June: As a farmer, just knowing that you’re growing something for people to consume, that is indescribable. Knowing that I grew that, so I’m feeding the world.
Angie: It’s a necessity. It’s sort of like a doctor or a lawyer.
June: We’re always going to need food.
Angie: We need medical practitioners. We need people to take care of us. I like to say we need food practitioners. The most positive thing, and I think the thing that’s missing in the conversation about agriculture, is community development, being in community.
How can we better build relationships with farmers in our communities? How can people support them?
Angie: A lot of times, with Black farmers, we’re very secluded from everyday society. So I would suggest people start with policymakers and our [Congressional] Black Caucus, pressure them to make Black farmers and Black land ownership key topics.
Second, go to our organizations: NAN—the National Action Network—the NAACP, and the Urban League.
Third, reach out to your farmers. A farmer needs to feel like he or she has backing—like, they aren’t put under pressure, or put on a pedestal, or tokenized as this beacon of hope or light. That’s a lot of stress for someone who is going through difficult times already.
What’s helped us is developing a community, a network that we stand on the shoulders of. A lot of times as Black farmers and landowners we’re missing those shoulders, those pedestals to stand on top of. We feel alone out there.
If people start bum-rushing us and saying, “What can we do? Can we buy products from you?” That’s great and all, and that’s sustaining income, but that could be a short-term, short-lived process. What we need are long-term solutions. And those long-term solutions come from our policymakers and our organizations. We need to get back to the roots that we had in 1964 and 1965. When we came up with the Civil Rights laws and the Civil Rights activations.
June: And I’d like to say that going to Resistance Served, where so many people came up to us and said, “We support you. What can we do?” Just that in itself means the world to us. Just to know that we have people we will be life-long friends with.
Angie: The best way to support Black farmers is build a community and become activated.
What else should people know?
Angie: People will see the harsh sides of what we’re going through, but I can tell you that we are so excited for the future, for us and for Black farmers and land owners. June and I are creating a heritage center for Black sugarcane farmers, which we hope to get attention and funding for so we’re creating a nonprofit named after June’s father.
We can tell you that every memorial or dedication to sugarcane here in Louisiana is very European in its storytelling, so we want to bring something back to us and to include everyone in the story of sugarcane and in farming in general. [We want to show people] how a lot of the practices that we use like soil testing and raised beds came from our West African culture.
Our biggest goal is to encourage the next generation of Black and brown kids to get into agriculture and remarry the land.
June: That’s the ultimate goal for me is to get that next generation active again. We want them to get on the tractor and farm.
This is my family’s legacy. This is what I want to continue doing. It’s important. Because if we don’t—we’re less than 2 percent [of land owners] now—we won’t have anything in a few years, if this keeps going.
Sarah Thompson, Brewer, Baker, Charcuterie Maker, Attendee at Resistance Served
What is your food story?
I always knew I wanted to go to culinary school rather than college, but my parents weren’t really into that so I took time off after high school. I ended up going to Le Cordon Bleu in Seattle and not really loving it, but that got my foot in the door for a baking position, and then brewing from there because I was living at the time in Tacoma, Washington, and there are so many breweries there.
I did an apprenticeship in New Zealand last year to learn whole-muscle charcuterie, so I’ve done that now, too. I’ve been in Philly for the last three years, and I’m at a point right now where I’m doing my own pop-ups: I do a bagel pop-up, I’m probably going to do a biscuit one, and I might figure out how to work my charcuterie in. I guess the thread that ties it all together is fermentation.
What brought you to Resistance Served?
I was a server and bartender as well, and I just wanted something to breathe life back into the energy I have toward the service industry. I’ve always loved working in food for so many reasons, and I wanted to be around people who would give me energy. And also to look at the power of this industry—I think it is one that holds a lot of potential for influence.
I think a lot of the service industry is kind of stuck in these antiquated cycles of patriarchal stuff. It’s very turn-and-burn and I think there’s space to grow out of that. I’m taking in all the talk here about labor and sustainability. I’m learning how to set boundaries, how to carve out space for myself. That was one of the things I was picking up on: the value of protecting yourself within an industry that can really burn you out.
And what I’ve gotten from the conference is the need for this sense of community within the industry and the power of that community. One of the panelists mentioned Georgia Gilmore. I remember reading about her in The Potlikker Papers and thinking, “this is incredible”—a woman who was helping the economy of Montgomery, Alabama, selling pies out of her house [during the Montgomery Bus Boycott].
Talking about the power of Black women to change industries and change socially—it’s really invigorating to be around that. So I’ve come out of this event thinking a lot about what I can do in my community to get people involved, and with the pop-up scene in Philly that I’m a part of. I would like to do some gathering and I’ve just started talking to people who are involved in local politics.
Any other highlights?
I didn’t realize how quickly I would bond with all the people [at the conference]. We have a group text now, as we are going back to work. It was such a feeling of family. It was so beautiful. That’s been my takeaway—I feel so seen.
Photos by Clay Williams.