Meet 4 Black Chefs That Are Leading The Food Justice Movement
They’re here for change.
Working to ensure healthy universal food access to all, The Food Justice Movement remains a pivotal gateway into changing the ongoing food crisis in America and abroad. From food insecurity to food deserts, the list of disparities goes on and on, affecting a staggering estimate of over 349 million people worldwide. And though said food crisis remains a prominent issue for all, it especially affects those who live in marginalized, low-income communities. Luckily, there’s a fresh crop of advocates leading the charge for change. In fact, many Black chefs and content creators have been leveraging their platforms to educate their audiences on Food Justice and said disparities.
“As a good content creator and recipe developer who focuses on healthier recipes, I know firsthand just how extremely expensive it is to eat organic, healthy ingredients,” says Shanika Graham-White, notable chef, author, and founder of Orchids + Sweet Tea, a healthy food blog that offers simple recipes with complex flavors. “Personally, before moving to my current neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, I didn’t have much access to organic grocers or healthy ingredients besides the limited amounts found via Amazon Fresh. However, now that I’m in a better area, I am able to consistently eat healthier even when getting takeout. But that’s definitely not the case for a lot of people, especially the marginalized community.”
In simplest terms, it’s no coincidence that the food crisis predominantly plagues Black and brown communities, as its roots are in systematic racism and oppression. In 2020, research found in an American Progress study that “21.7% of Black households experienced food insecurity, as did 17.2% of Hispanic households and 7.1% of white households. These disparities are not natural; deep structural inequities — such as the wage and wealth gaps, elevated poverty rates, disparate and racialized access to food, and more — have created this consistent reality.”
And though we still have ways to go to help solve the ongoing food crisis, the culinary leaders below are working to continue to educate the public at large on the topic. Whether it’s providing healthy easy-to-make recipes for their followers or simply encouraging those often difficult conversations to bring awareness, these Black chefs are doing their part for change within the Food Justice Movement.
“I believe that, just like healthcare, nutritious and affordable foods should be universal and not at all based on your income or area in which you live,” says Graham-White. “As a population, everyone should have an equal level of benefit and opportunity to be healthy.” While the influencer doesn’t come from a long line of chefs, her family has always served as a fueling force for her culinary endeavors by inspiring her to create a space that both uplifts and feeds her audience.
As a self-taught cook and baker, Graham-White is changing the way her followers view healthy eating habits with easy-to-make recipes that are fun, innovative, and most importantly, accessible. “I created my blog, Orchids + Sweet Tea to develop easy recipes with healthier ingredients for those with different diets as a way to educate and get people confident in the kitchen to make it themselves,” she tells TZR. “The main way that I do this is by making the recipes easy enough for people to try while making healthier options still appear interesting and flavorful. I find that people are a lot more willing to try something healthy if it’s not boring or extremely ‘healthy looking.’”
After going through pivotal financial troubles, Graham-White began experimenting more with cooking and wanted to create a platform that provided affordable, accessible ingredients to her foodies near and far. “After having my own family, I began experimenting even more with cooking since we were going through major financial troubles and couldn't afford takeout for a period of time,” she says on her website. “Orchids + Sweet Tea is a food and wellness blog that includes recipes that stand by two things: Complex flavors. Simple ingredients.” From meatless skillet lasagna to vegan chocolate cake, her recipes all provide affordable ingredients you can easily pick up at your local grocer.
Maryah Ananda is an NYC-based culinary artist and model who brings curiosity to the kitchen by infusing spirituality into her vegetarian and vegan creations. Her work as a culinary expert has led her to host branded dinners while catering to clients including but not limited to, Marc Jacobs Fragrances, Our Place and Urban Outfitters Home, to name a few.
Ananda has a passion for feeding her guests physically, mentally, and spiritually, all while helping her community unlearn unhealthy habits, re-learn healthier ones, and heal their bodies. “We always start with ourselves first and foremost,” she tells TZR. “Before we even begin to educate other people we must ask ourselves ‘What do my food practices look like?’ ‘What am I spending my money on?’ ‘Am I healing from my own traumas before I educate other people on theirs?’ I make simple recipes that taste delicious. You don’t need to be elaborate to eat good, so I promote going to the local farmers market, expanding your palate, highlighting my SE Asian background and taking vitamins. Our soil is depleted of nutrients so we don’t get as many vitamins and minerals from what we eat.”
From showing her followers how to make long lasting meals using their leftovers to partnering with brands working to end racism in the food space, Ananda’s mission is simple: Provide accessible food community care and nourishment to all. “Why are we constantly trying to negotiate our right to access fresh produce?” she asks. “Why do Black and brown people have to constantly prove their worth on many different aspects? Career, education, pay rate, access to fresh and affordable food, and access to affordable formula prove that our existence and value is beyond a ‘movement’ or an acronym.”
Bethany Morrison is a self taught vegan chef, model, mental health advocate, and founder of Likkle Vegan Tings. Based in NYC, Bethany grew up in a Jamaican household where West Indian cuisine became a pivotal part of her life. After struggling with crippling anxiety, Morrison found the root of her mental health struggles in the food she was consuming, and eventually decided to seek refuge in veganism.
Her chef platform serves as a form of bridging the gap between Jamaican cuisine and delicious vegan recipes. “I’m not one of those vegans who forces veganism on people, but I highly encourage people who follow me or people that I come across who are curious about my veganism to lessen their meat intake,” says Morrison to TZR. “Meat-rich diets can be a big problem, as one of the greatest causes of biodiversity loss and extinction is the conversion of forest and woodland grazing for cattle.”
Whether it’s providing catering, private chef, or meal delivery services to her community, Morrison’s work extends beyond her tasty and visually pleasing vegan recipes. Her work includes partnering with Order Chef, a community-based platform that’s devoted to building a more inclusive food system for all with affordable access to healthy meal preps. “Access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally important food is a natural-born right for all because everyone deserves the right to live well, eat well, and live as long as possible,” she says. “The rich are living longer than the poor, and that’s not right.”
Rasheeda McCallum is a chef, nutritionist, and executive director of The Black Chef Movement, a non-profit organization that supports justice for Black and brown communities through the preparation and distribution of nutritious meals. If she’s not cooking things up in the comfort of her kitchen, McCallum is constantly working to ensure universal access to food in New York bouroughs. “At the Black Chef Movement, we focus a lot on food rescue,” she explains. “There is a prominent amount of food in this country, and the biggest issue that no one talks about is food waste. From farms to supermarkets, to restaurants, to private households… We all waste a ton of food,” she says to TZR. “ If more organizations worked to rescue food and redistribute it back into the communities that need it (for free), we could have fewer food deserts.”