The project, with nearly 20 local Black chefs, farmers and food producers, promotes economic and cultural sovereignty in communities that are disproportionately affected by crises.
On a sad day in January 2021, Ederique Goudia, Raphael Wright and a group of other collaborators gathered at Marygrove Conservancy in northwest Detroit to talk about their latest project, Taste the Diaspora, for a team of filming.
There was a lot of uncertainty in the world. Vaccines were still on the horizon. People always had that nervous look on their face about whether hugs were okay or whether it was okay not to wear a mask indoors. Restaurants in Michigan were still severely limiting capacity. All the organizers knew was that amidst all this unease, they wanted to nurture the community and provide a way to celebrate Black History Month, even if it was done remotely.
Goudia, Wright and co-founding chef Jermond Booze teamed up with a team of nearly 20 local black chefs, farmers and food producers to create shoeboxes – a nod to take-out meals prepared by black families traveling during the Jim Crow-era — to highlight the often overlooked contributions of African Americans to the nation’s culinary landscape while supporting Detroiters hardest hit by COVID-19. Each week in February, they featured chefs who touched on different aspects of the African Diaspora, ranging from Creole, East African, Caribbean and Southern.
The shoe lunchboxes were an immediate hit. At $25 each, they sold out in three days and won national awards cheer. The team also distributed 100 boxes to food insecure residents.
“One of the things I love about Detroit is that there’s this Southern hospitality here that you wouldn’t think you’d find,” said Goudia, a native of Wallace, Louisiana. “Even though we support each other in our local business community and what we do, it was still shocking that others were so supportive, and not just buying lunch boxes, but being willing to share. .”
Organizers realized they were developing a vehicle that not only enhanced diaspora food traditions, but also sustainably fostered the economic and cultural sovereignty of communities disproportionately affected by crises.
One of the main strengths of the group was its potential as a self-help provider. Last summer, as Hurricane Ida ravaged the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, including the hometown of Goudia, the Taste the Diaspora team stepped up to join the relief effort. The Detroit contingency hosted a series of pop-up dining events, raising $8,500. The money was used to purchase turkeys and gift cards for families in need during the Thanksgiving season.
Goudia says she and the other organizers didn’t even have to ask if they would participate; she simply explained what they were doing and other local business owners not only supported their efforts but offered other ideas for getting involved. Such was the case with Stephen Roginson, owner of Batch Brewing, who during the pandemic set up a giant tent outside his space in Corktown to accommodate other chefs in need of a means of work. For Hurricane Ida relief efforts, he volunteered to host a whole pork roast, Goudia says.
For February 2022, Taste the Diaspora’s Shoebox Project places Black health and well-being (the theme that the Association for the Study of African American Life and History has identified for this year’s Black History Month) at the forefront of the group’s agenda. Tickets are on sale at Try the Diaspora site.
Participating businesses include renowned Burundian restaurant Baobab Fare, Fried Chicken & Caviar popup, Flavors of Jamaica, Experience Relish, Mag Creates, Meal Prep by Alisha K, Chef Jermond Booze, Chef Buddah (Vegan Gumbo Guy) and Chef Amber Beckem.
This year, the organizers have found other ways for the community to get involved. A city-wide scavenger hunt aimed at sending participants to 35 black-owned businesses, in partnership with the city institutewill launch on February 11. On February 17, Goudia will be joined by Hamissi Mamba, co-owner of Baobab Fare, Kwaku Osei-Bonsu (co-founder of East Eats Detroit and Detroit Black Restaurant Week) and Jo Banner of The Descendants Project based in Wallace, Louisiana, for a virtual round table on food, land, history of healing and reparation hosted by Urban Consulate.
Osei-Bonsu co-founded East Eats, an outdoor restaurant with a roster of local black chefs, as a way to navigate the uncertainty of indoor dining restrictions. And Baobab rate – which opened after a years-long struggle to raise capital – is opening its kitchens to up-and-coming chefs who don’t yet have their own brick-and-mortar spaces looking to host pop-up catering events as part of their business models .
Goudia will also lead the kitchen for a foodie event on February 3-4 at the pop-up venue Frame in the suburb of Hazel Park featuring a Cajun-Creole menu. Students from the Detroit Food Academy, which trains young locals to work in a restaurant, will help with the preparation. The menu will also include ingredients from planted straita vertical hydroponic farm located east of the city.
Going forward, Goudia says she and a growing number of her peers are looking at the kinds of conditions restaurant workers have faced in the past and imagining new ways to break that cycle.
The way she and other Taste the Diaspora organizers came together is just one example.
“We’re really looking at kind of a crossroads and trying to figure out, is this how I want to see the rest of my life?” Goudia said. “Is this what I want to do and how can I continue to do what I’m doing, but in a way that’s much healthier for me and my family?”
This article was made possible through a collaborative storytelling effort with Tostada Magazinea Detroit-based independent digital media organization that was founded on the principle that food journalism has the power to unite communities and preserve culture.
Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning Chicana journalist and founder and editor of Tostada Magazinea Detroit-based digital food and cultural journalism platform that focuses on the stories and perspectives of immigrants and people of color.