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Posted on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 11 a.m.

Building the 'beloved food community' and MLK Day 2013

By Kim Bayer


Photo from the SNRE website

Among the food events that have influenced me most profoundly, one milestone was a completely new and unique (at that time) panel discussion and demonstration in 2007 that was part of the MLK Symposium at the University of MIchigan's School of Social Work. Featuring "Detroit Community Gardens, Calder Farm Dairy, Zingerman's Creamery and the Community Farm of Ann Arbor," this event was one of many small side notes to the larger talks with nationally known speakers. Organized by a passionate PhD student and called "Building the Beloved Food Community," it was focused on the potential for food and agriculture to contribute to Dr. Martin Luther's King Jr.'s vision for Building the Beloved Community.

According to the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change "Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict."

Although we still seem far from reaching those lofty ideals, I'm struck by how much has changed in the food and agriculture landscape in a few short years, and how much a beloved food community is starting to emerge. Now food and agriculture seem to be part of many discussions on campus and beyond, and are featured on a much grander scale in this year's 27th MLK Symposium.

For example, on Jan. 21, 2013, Professor Dorceta Taylor will deliver the MLK Day lecture at the School of Natural Resources and Environment titled "Race, Poverty, and Access to Food in America: Resistance, Survival, and Sustainability." Her talk will highlight the "five-year, $4 million study of disparities in access to healthy food across the state" on which she is the principal investigator. For the study, "researchers will interview residents and study data in 18 small to mid-sized cities to better understand the factors affecting 'food security,' a socioeconomic term that defines easy access to safe and healthy food."

In addition, the Clements Library is highlighting Curator Jan Longone's groundbreaking work bringing to light culinary works of African Americans (including the first African American authored cookbook) in an exhibition titled "Making Their Own Way: African Americans in the Culinary World." The exhibit includes "a selection of the Longone Culinary Archive's African American-authored works from the early 19th to late 20th century, this exhibit presents the voices of household employees, restaurateurs, chefs, caterers, teachers, ministers, and other unsung heroes who shared their expertise in print. Each voice is unique, and yet together they build a story, just as each cook's dishes are unique, but together they constitute a cuisine." On exhibit until April 12, 2013.

At the Clements Library on Jan. 22 at 2 p.m., Culinary Historian and Director of the SANDE Youth Project, Toni Tipton-Martin, will speak on "The Jemima Code: A Gallery of Great Cooks Share Their Secrets." Tipton-Martin's talk will "examine the way that African American cookbooks dispute the myth of Aunt Jemima and reveal the values, work ethic and culinary proficiencies that these early American role models recorded in their cookbooks."

As Dr. King said, "Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that."

That force for creation and organization is why area residents should consider attending the Ypsilanti City Council meeting on the evening of Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. Council will vote on a new Ypsilanti Food Ordinance that would foster food production, processing and sales in the city of Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti food activists are asking supporters to attend and to contact city representatives before Jan. 22.

Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.


Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

Thanks for this lovely essay and timely reminder. I grew up in the South and have been reminded a number of times that much of our cooking style and even ingredients came from African-descended cooks, who taught us and helped evolve a uniquely American cuisine. This is a great time to feature this tradition.