Julia Turshen Is Making Room At The Table

The question of what it means to be fed is one that has haunted sustainability activists for ages: How much is being spent on feeding people? Who gets to be fed? Who doesn’t? Who’s doing the feeding?

Julia Turshen, the bestselling author of Feed the Resistance, one of the best cookbooks of 2017, who lives with her wife and pets in rural Hudson Valley, is doing her best to answer those questions. The gay, Jewish-woman-founded Equity At The Table, a digital directory of LGBT and POC women in the food industry.

Turshen understands all too well the precise delineations of her privilege. “At the end of the day, I am a white, able-bodied, cisgender, educated, financially secure person in America,” she writes in Feed the Resistance. As such, she’s made it her mission to carve a seat at the table for people the world hasn’t made room for.

From the white world of food media to the white world of celebrity chefs to the even whiter world of publishing, why does the food world seem so opposed to diversity? Is it because publishers and casting teams and food conferences and magazines can’t find diverse people who are sufficiently qualified? Well, what if there was a site that listed the names, occupations and contact informations of hundreds of food professionals? Would the food world finally be a little less white? That list of names is what Equity At The Table is here to supply, to make those crucial connections between marginalized communities and people in power.

I spoke with Turshen about harassment in the food world, putting together a database of the marginalized and being an out-and-proud gay cook.

What inspired the creation of Equity at the Table?

Putting together ‘Feed the Resistance’ helped me better understand how I could use my own platform as a cookbook author to move the industry I call home in a forward-moving direction. It helped me expand my own community, both professionally and personally. In doing so, I spent a lot more time listening and finding out more about experiences that other people have had and what those experiences felt and looked like. I don’t know the solutions to all of the issues that our industry faces, but I absolutely saw room for a resource that could bring us closer to some of those solutions.

What does it mean for you to be out and proud in the cooking industry? Have you ever experienced any harassment? Because I know that when I read your story, I felt very seen.

I’m so glad that in sharing my story, it helped you feel seen. That’s what it’s all about. The more we can all see ourselves represented, the more connected we can all be. That is why I bring my full self — which includes my identity as an out and proud woman — to my work. It’s very gratifying to know that as a cookbook author I’ve helped someone in the kitchen. It’s a whole other type of gratifying to hear from other women what it means to them to see the word ‘wife’ written so often by another woman, especially in a place as familiar as a cookbook. To answer your other question, yes, I have experienced harassment, which makes me no different than just about every woman I know.

How can people combine cooking with activism? What does activist cooking look like?

There are so many ways and ‘Feed the Resistance’ includes tons of examples, both ones we can look back on (like Georgia Gilmore’s Club from Nowhere) and ones we can engage in now (like cooking for activists, using food as a conduit for difficult conversations the way Tunde Wey does in his work, understanding that food justice won’t be achieved without racial justice which Shakirah Simley beautifully explained in her essay, or using food as a means of healing for reentering citizens as Jordyn Lexton does with Drive Change). Food gives us so many ways to be active in improving our communities.

What can be done about the gatekeepers of food media?

I think your question implies that there’s work to be done and I agree. EATT is a tool that any and all gatekeepers can use to help make their coverage more inclusive and it also shows us what can happen when you take down the gates. Scrolling through EATT is a tangible way of seeing how dynamic the food industry is and how many voices are part of its chorus.

What does food justice look like for marginalized communities?

What will it look like? Because it hasn’t been achieved yet. If we all work together, though, I really believe it can be and it will look like fresh, healthy food that’s accessible for any and all, and that helps everyone feel connected to themselves and their communities. In terms of food media, it means that anyone can look to it and see themselves and their stories represented. Food justice is a huge thing and it cannot be achieved without racial justice, environmental justice, or social justice. We all have to be an active part of pushing it forward.

What is the Resistance looking like to you, two years in? What more can we do?

Well for one thing, it’s not two years in. It’s been going on for generations, and any forward-movement we accomplish stands on the shoulders of everything and everyone that came before us. We can all be part of it and I think the key is finding whatever way of being involved and active in your community that best suits you so that you don’t just show up, you keep showing up. I love food and I love to cook, so that’s where most of my resisting happens. Figure out how to find a bit more meaning in the things you already love to do and just keep doing them. This work will help us make longer tables rather than higher fences.

Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at feder@forward.com

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