/movement jan 19 '17
2017 has already inspired a series of social, cultural and political questions that have moved Americans to new levels of action and visioning, in this first month alone. This is the year that a new regime takes control of our government, threatening to push vulnerable individuals and communities to greater levels of exploitation. For some, this is not such a stark contrast to any year in the history of this country. For others, this administration represents a new era of political engagement and deep probing. Some are asking, “what will we do?” while others have been called to ask who “we” are in the first place.

In 1997, Ntozake Shange – poet, playwright, cook, novelist – wrote a cookbook entitled If I can Cook/You Know God Can. She wrote it in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia one is able to taste and enjoy the legacies of pots cooking from all over the world – from the Gullah islands of South Carolina to the tropical islands of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia to East and West Africa, Europe and the Arab Peninsula, and so on. In the midst of all this cooking, Shange recalled memories of her own culinary past and invited her readers to do some imagining too. In the first chapter, Learning to Be Hungry/Holdin’ On Together, she writes,

But seriously, and here I ask for a moment of quiet meditation, what did L’Ouverture, Pétion, and Dessalines share for their victory dinner, realizing they were the first African nation, slave-free, in the New World? What did Bolivar crave as independence from Spain became evident? What was the last meal of the defiant Inca Atahualpa before the Spaniards made a public spectacle of his defeat? I only ask these questions because the New York Times and the Washington Post religiously announce the menu of every Inauguration dinner at the White House every four years. Yet I must imagine… what a free people chose to celebrate victory. What sated the appetites of slaves no longer slaves, Africans now Haitians, ordinary men made mystical by wont of their taste for freedom? How did we consecrate our newfound liberty? Now this may only be important to me, but it is. It is very important. I need to know how we celebrate our victories, our very survival. What did we want for dinner?

On the eve of this presidential inauguration, I am inspired to search for answers to Shange’s question and to curate a series of responses to it, in the soon-to-be Philadelphia Assembled Kitchen.

Drawing from culinary traditions across the city, we will design a space for sitting with each other – individuals from different countries, communities, and backgrounds – and learn about our unique histories of resistance. Gaining insight into who “we are” as a city will inspire us to design our own inaugural menu, to mark the beginning of this new period of Philadelphia’s commitment to unity, resilience, and collective justice.

Written by culinary artist and organizer Pascale Boucicaut on January 19, 2017.
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