‘There Is Obviously A Race Issue In Food. I’ve Personally Dealt With It.’



By day, Cornelia Poku works in the food and agriculture biotech world as a communications manager. She has also established a popular blog, Black Girls Eat DC, in which she highlights various restaurants in the Washington area. Finding both her day job and her passion project to be intricately connected to her race, Poku has witnessed firsthand the difficulties that come with being African American while trying to break into a business in the United States.

Here, as told to Anna Rahmanan in our Voices In Food series, Poku shares her thoughts about the passing of George Floyd, the cultural and political upheaval it has activated and where she hopes protesting will take us.

Every time I see someone is killed by law enforcement, it takes me back to the day I found out about Trayvon Martin. I can remember where I was and what I was doing ― I was in my early 20s when that happened, and I remember having a realization that I didn’t before have while living in the bubble of D.C. I realized that there really are people out there who don’t care and don’t want to protect us and are just attacking Black people for no reason. So, when I saw what happened to George Floyd, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen ― sometimes you have incidents that just go across your feed and people stop talking about. But within a couple of days, I realized that this was a more major event and, of course, there were probably several compounding factors.

“When the protests are over, what I’m hoping is that people will be considerate of Black-owned restaurants and want to see them thrive and be successful and reestablish themselves after everything that’s happened.”

I set aside time this weekend to go to a protest because I have this frustrating energy in my body to do something. During the time I couldn’t go out, I’ve been using Instagram as a way to try to educate people and to get some of those constructive frustrations out.

One of the things that I’m seeing a lot is people wanting to protect and support Black businesses, including restaurants. I understand that, in some places, restaurants have been torn down. But I’m also seeing that, in a lot of places, those establishments have been left untouched and people are turning their dollars toward Black restaurants that are still open and trying to support in any way that they possibly can.

To me, food is what everybody was thinking about before this happened. It just seemed like food was at the center of the coronavirus and, with people being frustrated and not knowing where to turn and a lot of businesses being closed, a lot of people are going back to Black-owned businesses ― Black-owned restaurants ― to see how they can help.

When the protests are over, what I’m hoping is that people will be considerate of Black-owned restaurants and want to see them thrive and be successful and reestablish themselves after everything that’s happened.

I have spent a lot of time looking for comprehensive lists of Black-owned restaurants in the D.C. area, and have always been met with the same list consisting of Ben’s Chili Bowl and Ooh’s and Aah’s; both excellent establishments, but certainly not the only ones. At some point, I even started compiling my own list so I wouldn’t forget which ones I’ve been to and which ones I need to visit. This list that [food advocate] Anela Malik made is an incredible resource beyond this time that we’re in and I truly hope it continues to live and grow.

“I am seeing all kinds of industries step up and say that they support Black lives. A couple of years ago, nobody wanted to touch that topic. I am really hoping that this is a trend and it does not fade.”

In terms of the virus, I think restaurants are really going to struggle in terms of getting their footing back. They already operate on razor-thin margins, so to be told that they have to decrease their volume to 25% and, even then, most people don’t want to go out. What will that look like for them monetarily? I am hoping that, with time and as a treatment and a vaccine are available, those tables can get closer and closer again and go back to 100% volume.

There is obviously a race issue in the food industry and that’s something that I have personally dealt with, as a blogger struggling to have access to certain brands that only want to work with people who have a large number of followers. Who has that many followers? White people.

So, I’m really hoping that this issue has brought forth to everybody the need to have Black people represented everywhere. Due to the work of influencers, I am seeing all kinds of industries step up and say that they support Black lives. A couple of years ago, nobody wanted to touch that topic. I am really hoping that this is a trend and it does not fade.



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