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YES! Illustration by Fran Murphy

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How Cooking Is Stirring the Pot for Social Change

YES! Illustration by Fran Murphy

YES! Illustration by Fran Murphy

My arms hurt as I walked through Brooklyn on a cold December night. I was carrying a 10-pound, party-size tray of macaroni and cheese with three cheeses, cooked to just a touch beyond al dente, with a breadcrumb topping. I was headed to a community potluck and had spent the better part of that morning making (read: babying) a mornay sauce, cooking the pasta, and baking the mixture in the oven. As I walked the six blocks from the subway station to the venue where the meeting was being held, my arms started to shake. I started to wonder why I didn’t just pick up a bag of chips and a jar of dip and call it a day, but then I remembered the excited messages I received when I told my fellow event-goers that I would be bringing macaroni and cheese to our potluck. It was my way of making my friends and community members happy on a cold night and my way of providing comfort as we talked about the future of our community.

Why do we cook? Firstly, we cook to sustain ourselves and our families. But in the current culture of food-as-art-form, we also cook to express ourselves. Cooking may seem like an act of self-preservation, an act that is both self-serving and necessary, but if you look beyond the immediate and beyond the narrow definition of what cooking is, you can see that cooking is and has always been an act of resistance.

Sean Sherman

Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) is founder of the Sioux Chef, a Minneapolis food education and catering company. The “indigenous cuisine” movement is an effort to revitalize Native food cultures in modern kitchens. Photo by Nancy Bundt

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen
The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen

Sometimes what we don’t cook says more than what we do cook. For chef Sean Sherman, fry bread is a dish that he will not make. In his cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, he talks about fry bread, viewed as a sacrosanct part of indigenous cuisine, and explains why this seemingly simple dish is more than the sum of its parts. “I’m often asked why we don’t have fry bread on the menu or offer a recipe for fry bread in this book,” he writes. “It originated nearly 150 years ago when the U.S. government forced our ancestors from the homelands they farmed, foraged, and hunted, and the waters they fished.” For Sherman and for many indigenous communities, fry bread is an edible reminder of the injustices of colonialism and the loss of the ability to explore and develop indigenous cuisine using ingredients from the region. “They lost control of their food and were made to rely on government-issued commodities — canned meat, white flour, sugar, and lard — all lacking nutritive value,” Sherman explains. “Controlling food is a means of controlling power.”

Every time we step to our stoves to make a meal we’re engaging with the society around us. Each ingredient that we use, every technique, every spice tells a story about our access, our privilege, our heritage, and our culture. The foods and dishes we consume are all part of larger forces that impact our lives. Our appetites and what we crave are the result of our place in the world at that time.

Three cookbooks — Feed the Resistance, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, and The Immigrant Cookbook — show how the act of cooking can be a platform for social justice and social action.

For Sherman, creating dishes using ingredients that were available to his ancestors is how he reclaims Native American foodways and supports the indigenous community. In his book, he explains how the work that he does now is about continuing to explore these foodways and create dishes using ingredients that are native to Minnesota. Instead of fry bread, Sherman creates corn cakes with braised bison or smoked duck because these ingredients represent indigenous cuisine and its reliance on the land and ingredients in a more holistic way.

left double quoteThey taste of a time when we, as a people, were healthy and strong, and of the promise that we can stand up to the foods that have destroyed our health, the forces that have compromised our culture,” he writes. “And our corn cakes are easier to make and far tastier than any fry bread.” — Sean Sherman

Feed the Resistance
Feed the Resistance

Reclaiming a culture’s cuisine is a clear act of using food in a way to create social change. But home cooking can create change in smaller communities and ways. Feed the Resistance is technically a cookbook, but it’s also a collection of essays from chefs, writers, nonprofit founders, and others who are busy using their stoves in their resisting. Author Julia Turshen, writes cookbooks and recently created Equity at the Table, a database for women and nonbinary people of color in the food world. She’s also an activist and intends for the book to be used as a way to support local activism. The recipes are divided into sections for activists who need to feed a crowd or bring portable snacks to a bake sale, or if someone just needs to make a quick meal for herself. They are accompanied by an introduction or essay by the creator of the recipe about what this specific dish means to them and what they are actively “resisting” when they make it. “Homemade food is an act of self-care that will serve you while you’re resisting,” Turshen writes above a simple recipe for roasted broccoli and quinoa with cashew dressing. “It’s important to take care of yourself so you can better take care of the world.”

Feed the Resistance can feel like a diary at times and offers readers a peek into the kitchens of people all over the United States who are actively working in the social justice space. In the essay “How Food Can Be a Platform for Activism,” Shakirah Simley, co-founder and organizer of Nourish/Resist in San Francisco, talks about using food to discuss police brutality with her brother and the function that food has when it comes to activism. “In my work, we seek to nourish so that we may resist,” she writes. In this way, it isn’t just the food that is important, but the act of eating together that creates a platform where activism can happen.

The Immigrant Cookbook
The Immigrant Cookbook

In activism, and in food, there’s also the question of who gets the mic and who gets to tell their story or share their ideas. In The Immigrant Cookbook the recipes are courtesy of chefs and writers from all over the world who have made America home. Well-known chefs like Daniel Boulud, José Andrés, and Nina Compton share recipes alongside chefs who are less known, but each one represents the story of a person or family coming to this country — and bringing their heritage and foodways with them.

Cultures and history come to the stove with us each time we cook, and every recipe in The Immigrant Cookbook is proof of that. Immigrants bring their food and recipes to this country and add to our shared American table. We may think of “American” food as apple pies and hot dogs and hamburgers, but these recipes, with their substitutions and roots in cuisines from other countries, are just as American. American food is a mixture of indigenous cuisine and food from other places adapted to incorporate American ingredients. Cooking these dishes is a way of embracing all of the “recipes that make America great,” as the book says.

When I think about cooking at my stove, or going grocery shopping, I often think about the feeling that I want to have when I sit down to eat. Am I trying to make something healthy so I feel good? Am I trying to comfort myself? Am I trying to make my partner feel loved? Food and cooking tap into what we want to feel, and that’s why they’re the perfect way to create change. Everyone puts down their guard over a good meal, and in that space, change is possible.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver wrote that “cooking is good citizenship. It’s the only way to get serious about putting locally raised foods into your diet, which keeps farmlands healthy and grocery money in the neighborhood.” I would expand that to say that cooking — and letting others in our communities cook for us — is how we become good citizens who engage with the communities around us. That connection is how we create change. That’s why cooking is and will always be an act of resistance.

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What Came Before #MeToo: The “Himpathy” That Shaped Misogyny

YES! ILLUSTRATION BY FRAN MURPHY

YES! ILLUSTRATION BY FRAN MURPHY

The #MeToo movement has brought unprecedented attention to sexual harassment and assault. It’s revealed just how many women feel besieged by sexually predatory behavior — especially in the workplace. The wave of women coming forward has shown that sexual harassment is the rule in many institutions.

And #MeToo has only revealed a small piece of a much larger problem. Although the most high-profile #MeToo stories have focused on celebrities or executives, most victims are disproportionately young, low-income, and minority women. Also less evident in the #MeToo movement have been cases of sexual violence: where shaming, trolling, threats, and unwelcome advances have given way to rape, physical violence, and even forms of torture — of which choking is the most common.

In its most extreme cases, it can literally be a matter of life and death, and yet sexual harassment and violence remain largely hidden by an elaborate system of denial, gaslighting, and retraction of accusations by women. Meanwhile, unrepentant abusers are often comforted or excused while victims are blamed.

How did we get here? Moral philosopher Kate Manne’s book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, helps explain. Thanks to Manne, the undue comfort that men receive now has a name: It’s called himpathy. And, together with how she defines misogyny, Manne provides a useful framework for understanding not just the present #MeToo moment, but what came before.

For Manne, misogyny is not simply “men who hate women.” That’s far too simplistic, she says. Rather, it’s a far-reaching, punitive social system that keeps women in their place by rewarding compliance and punishing resistance to the gendered social order. This disciplining role of misogyny has escaped attention for a variety of reasons, chiefly, the social shield of himpathy.

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny book cover
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

Himpathy, a term destined to become part of the feminist vocabulary, names a problem previously unrecognized — and perhaps that’s the first step in solving it. Manne defines himpathy as the “excessive sympathy sometimes shown to male perpetrators of sexual violence,” in the attempt to preserve their reputation, power, or status. Accused men, especially those with privilege, are broadly treated with deference by the media and the public, and if they’re brought to court are given lenient sentences.

This is so common as to be a given for men in power. Harvey Weinstein is a case in point. Wielding control over the film careers of many and trading on his artistic reputation, he escaped unscathed for decades. Excuses are abundantly generated: alcohol, flirtation taken too far, or provocation on the part of the victim. Himpathy builds on the idea that sexual predators and rapists are creepy monsters, not “golden boys.” Correspondingly, the women in these situations are characterized as hysterical, misguided, or liars who misread the intentions of their attackers.

Himpathy is a helpful explanation of the response after sexual abuse allegations are revealed. Over and over, we’ve seen victim blaming and rewriting of the story by friends, family, media, and sometimes even the victim. Responses to #MeToo revelations by close-at-hand onlookers are often characterized by shock and guilt for having looked the other way when powerful and respected men are involved.

But himpathy is certainly not a recent phenomenon. Historically, misogyny and himpathy have been normal, if unrecognized, fare for women in the workplace.

Sexual coercion at work had to be named before it could be fought, and feminists of the 1970s identified common experiences women suffered by naming marital rape and domestic abuse. The term “sexual harassment” in the workplace was defined by Lin Farley in her 1978 book, Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job, as “unsolicited nonreciprocal male behavior that asserts a woman’s sex role over her function as a worker.” Farley joined the legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon in pressing the courts to consider it part of “sex discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act gave women and minorities new rights in employment. But there was still backlash. A law on the books is only the first step in triggering a cultural shift. And law is not useful unless some are willing to use it and make a claim.

The backlash against #MeToo, in an already global movement, has begun. Sometimes the case is taken up by women, such as the actress Catherine Deneuve, who evoked the French tradition of seduction against sexual puritanism: “Clumsy flirting is not a crime,” she said.

The recognition of sexual harassment as a form of employment-related discrimination opened the floodgates: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began receiving tens of thousands of claims each year. Even with a rush of claims, many from low-wage workers, the definition of sexual harassment as interpreted by the courts is narrow and fails to consider the disadvantaged social circumstances of women that dissuade many from seeking legal recourse. Over the next 40 years, as women entered previously male-dominated fields, sexual harassment, though illegal under the law, persisted.

Take, for example, the high-profile cases of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in 1991 or Bill Clinton and Paula Jones in 1994. Despite attracting a great deal of attention, these failed to mobilize a mass movement. In both cases, the men involved were held by many to be blameless while Hill and Jones were scrutinized for ill intentions. Hill’s accusation on national television ultimately did not stop the Thomas confirmation, and Jones faded into obscurity. High-profile cases like these are easily dismissed as aberrations, a moral failure of one individual, a political plot, or gold-digging on the part of victims. Non-transgressing men benefit from a system that keeps women in their place, and low-profile cases continue to be invisible.

The backlash against #MeToo, in an already global movement, has begun. Sometimes the case is taken up by women, such as the actress Catherine Deneuve, who evoked the French tradition of seduction against sexual puritanism: “Clumsy flirting is not a crime,” she said. Claire Berlinski, writing for The American Interest, charged that in #MeToo, “mass hysteria had set in [as] a form of moral panic” that misinterprets naturally romantic interactions as nefarious.

This women-against-women narrative is part of the story of misogyny and himpathy — and it’s part of why it’s so difficult to remedy. By standing by their man, “good women” show their deference and act as enforcers. In exchange for upholding gender norms — and participating in misogyny by punishing those who don’t — they earn favors and advancement, which reinforces even further the social deviance of the victims.

After all, women can say no, these defenders say. But if you are not a woman with executive power or Meryl Streep, saying no is difficult.

Women who work to support their families have few options. When the choice is between your job and your dignity, himpathy is likely to work as a silencing mechanism. Unless #MeToo successfully expands beyond professional women by reaching out to empower pink- and blue-collar women who suffer in silence under male supervisors, it will leave its mark but will not have done its most significant work.

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Excerpt

Don’t Be Fooled by the Slight Shifts

YES! ILLUSTRATION BY FRAN MURPHY

YES! ILLUSTRATION BY FRAN MURPHY

I am interested in freedom, not survival, and as kwe, I understand my freedom is dependent upon the destruction of settler colonialism.

I understand settler colonialism’s present structure as one that is formed and maintained by a series of processes for the purposes of dispossessing, that create scaffolding within which my relationship to the state is contained. I certainly do not experience it as a historical incident that has unfortunate consequences in the present. I experience it as a gendered structure and a series of complex and overlapping processes that work together as a cohort to maintain the structure. The structure is one of perpetual disappearance of Indigenous bodies for perpetual territorial acquisition, to use Patrick Wolfe’s phrase. I think the insight that settler colonialism is formed and maintained by a series of processes is important because it recognizes that the state sets up different controlled points of interaction through its practices — consultations, negotiations, high-level meetings, inquiries, royal commissions, police, and law, for instance, that slightly shift, at least temporarily and on microscales, our experience of settler colonialism as a structure. The state uses its asymmetric power to ensure it always controls the processes as a mechanism for managing Indigenous sorrow, anger, and resistance, and this ensures the outcome remains consistent with its goal of maintaining dispossession. It can appear or feel as if the state is operating differently because it is offering a slightly different process to Indigenous peoples. Goodness knows, we’d all like to feel hopeful. We’d like to see a prime minister smudging or acknowledging he is on Indigenous territory and have that signal a significant dismantling of settler colonialism. This is attractive to us because we know we experience colonialism as a series of entrenched processes and practices, particularly in our local place-based realities, and within our own thought systems we know that we can create change by shifting the practices with which we are engaged. If we experience settler colonialism as a structure made up of processes, when the practices of settler colonialism appear to shift, it can appear to present an opportunity to do things differently, to change our relationship to the state.

The structure shifts and adapts, however, because it has one job: to maintain dispossession by continually attacking Indigenous bodies and destroying Indigenous families. Neoliberal states manipulate the processes that maintain settler colonialism to give the appearance that structure is changing. They manipulate Indigenous emotional responses, for instance, to get us to support these slight shifts in process by positioning those who critique the state-controlled processes of reconciliation or the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, for instance, as angry radicals who are unwilling to work together for the betterment of Indigenous peoples and Canadians. Colonialism as a structure is not changing. It is shifting to further consolidate its power, to neutralize our resistance, to ultimately fuel extractivism. Our history and our intelligence systems tell us we need to see this in the present.

Indeed, settler colonialism as a structure necessarily has to shift and adapt in order to meet the insatiable need of the state for land and resources. The processes of colonialism don’t necessarily look and feel the same every time, but we can’t be tricked. Intent matters within Nishnaabeg thought. Over and over again we watch our elders pray and explain intent to the spirits so that they will help and support them. The intention of the structure of colonialism is to dispossess. We cannot allow our processes, our emotions, or our intelligence to be co-opted and processed into the structure that is at the root of all of our problems, even if at the outset these processes appear to be kinder and gentler than those who have experienced in the past.

Radical Resurgence

When I first began thinking about the Radical Resurgence Project, I struggled in considering whether resurgence was still a relevant and useful lens to frame the interventions I wanted to think and write about. On one hand, resurgent thinkers are a small group of Indigenous scholars and organizers, mainly West Coast based, who continue to write and think about resurgence theory. Few of us have taken up what resurgence looks like within nation-based thought systems. A lot of Indigenous scholarship ends with resurgence as the mechanism to move forward without adding substantively to the conversation of how to do this, and still others have talked about nationhood, nation building, and a recentering of Indigenous political thought without mentioning resurgence to any degree. There are some valid critiques, although rarely written of resurgence, particularly regarding gender violence and queerness. At one point, I considered if it would be relatively easy to write the same book without mentioning resurgence, just grounding my work more deeply in Nishnaabeg thought. The aftermath of Idle No More, and the election of a liberal government changed my thinking. I see a critical need for Indigenous organizing and mobilization more now than I did under Harper because of the subtle, yet powerful forces of neoliberalism demobilizing movements of all sorts and pulling Indigenous peoples into state-controlled processes to a greater degree. I see the natural world, one that I’m entirely dependent upon and in love with, crumbling beneath my feet with the weight of global capitalism. I see a radical transformation that has to occur not just for the Nishnaabeg but for other Indigenous nations as well. I wanted to find a respectful way of talking and thinking about issues that are difficult for us to talk about.

As We Have Always Done book cover
As We Have Always Done

Resurgence has come to me to represent a radical practice of Indigenous theorizing, writing, organizing, and thinking, one that I believe is entirely consistent with and inherently from Indigenous thought. Radical means a thorough and comprehensive reform, and I use the term to mean root, to channel the vitality of my Ancestors to create a present that is recognizable to them because it is fundamentally different than the one settler colonialism creates. I am not using the term to mean crazy, violent, or from the fringe, nor do I think a trapper’s critique of colonialism by setting their traplines is a radical act. It’s also normal. It’s a valid critique based on direct experience with the system.

I am also not afraid to be radical, because when I hear stories of my Ancestors praying to the water every single day, before they had experience with pollution or with how bad things could get, I see these practices in my current context as a radical act of love. I think the epic nature of settler colonialism requires radical responses. Radical resurgence requires a deeply critical reading of settler colonialism and Indigenous response to the current relationship between Indigenous peoples and the state. Radical requires us to critically and thoroughly look at the roots of the settler colonial present — capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and anti-Blackness. Radical requires us to name dispossession as the meta-dominating force in our relationship to the Canadian state, and settler colonialism as the system that maintains this expansive dispossession.

I’m also not suggesting that we rename resurgence as radical resurgence — to me, this is the movement’s collective decision, not mine. Radical resurgence is simply a tool I’m using to communicate more specifically what I mean when I use the term resurgence. This is necessary because the word resurgence is now used in all kinds of ways, some of which feed nicely into discourses around reconciliation and neoliberalism, and others that remain in critical opposition to both. Radical resurgence means an extensive, rigorous, and profound reorganizing of things. To me, resurgence has always been about this. It has always been a rebellion and a revolution from within. It has always been about bringing forth a new reality.

Yes! But How?
DIY Ways to Live Sustainably

Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Illustration by Enkhbayar Munkh-Erdene

Sometime during the spring, backyard food growers will decide what kind of tomatoes to grow: heirlooms or hybrids. Hybrid varieties have had the benefit of genetic tinkering that allows for some cool traits. But these seeds must be purchased new each year from the companies that create them. Heirloom varieties have long, stable genetic histories, and these seeds usually have been passed down for generations within communities. “Heirloom vegetables are irresistible, not just for the poetry in the names but because these titles stand for real stories. Vegetables acquire histories when they are saved as seeds for many generations, carefully maintained and passed by hand from one gardener to another,” wrote author-turned-farmer Barbara Kingsolver in her memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007).

Most tomatoes in a supermarket are hybrids, bred for uniform shape, mechanized harvest, and long journeys. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that between 1903 and 1983, the variety of produce being grown had shrunk by 93 percent — 408 varieties of tomatoes down to 79 — and many of those heirlooms have been lost entirely. “Like sunshine, heirloom seeds are of little interest to capitalism if they can’t be patented or owned,” Kingsolver wrote.

That has spurred backyard farmers and networks like Seed Savers Exchange to preserve what’s left. If you’re traveling to out-of-the-way farmers markets or find yourself dining on beautiful heirloom tomato varieties that you find particularly delicious, save a tomato slice to take home. Then save the seeds to grow your own. Here’s how:

1
Save a big tomato slice to take home
Take a tomato slice home
2
Remove the seeds
Extract the seeds

Dig around to extract the seeds, surrounding pulpy gel, and juice, and put in a non-metal cup or jar.

3
Separate the seeds
Isolate the seeds

Allow it to sit for two days at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed by a little mold. The fermentation kills viruses, sorts out dud seeds, and separates seeds from their gel coating.

Add water, stir, and wait for mixture to settle. In general, the healthy seeds will sink to the bottom.

4
Rinse
Rinse

Pour off the goop, liquid, and any floating seeds, then rinse the good seeds in a strainer.

5
Dry
Dry

Arrange the biggest, fattest seeds on a paper towel, and allow them to dry for a couple of weeks. When it’s time to plant, just pinch off pieces of paper towel.

Don’t forget to check the Seed Saver’s Exchange to see if your variety is in its seed bank. If not, let them know what you’ve got.

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