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I started a catering company to heal my world through food

The Forward welcomes Imani Jackson as our newest food columnist. On Monday, May 31, MTV will feature Chef Jackson in its special on antisemitism, “With One Voice: Fighting Hatred Together.”

Everyone always asks me why I started a community-based catering company. It’s simple. I love to eat! I mean, who doesn’t?

But it’s also more than that. Living through being a Black Jew, the baby of three kids, raised in a white single parent household, forced me to grow up a lot more quickly than others and become a young independent adult.

Chef Imani Jackson

Chef Imani Jackson Courtesy of chopped and served

My mama always struggled to put food on our plate, or we relied on food pantries, so obviously we got free reduced lunch every year. Big flex right! Every year for Hanukkah we’d go to STEP, an emergency assistance program for community residents. It never mattered where we got the food, because my mother was determined to ensure her kids could eat and have gifts. We have always created something out of nothing, and it was the I mean seriously, even though we were poor it didn’t stop my mom from putting her elbow in our food. Bombalamama.coma was my mood when mama cooked, because we tasted love in every bite.

Inevitably, though, her feeling embarrassed, not worthy enough, sad she couldn’t give us more, stressed to death, and like a straight up charity case, deflected onto us. I hated it! My mama and all of us weren’t a charity case — no family struggling is one. We were just people born into a system built against us, and I was determined to change that.

Every ounce in my body has gone towards the fight to dismantle white supremacy and change the narrative for oppressed marginalized communities. I won’t make these systematically oppressed families I see every day believe they are a charity case, because they’re much more than that. They are the backbone of this capitalistic country, and they don’t get the appreciation they deserve.

But why catering, why food?

Traveling to Israel several times, to the Caribbean, to Vancouver and all over the world taught me that regardless of race, religion, class or gender, everyone has to eat. Travel helped me to understand how important it is we invest in the youth in order to break generational curses and narratives. It showed me how we all have this common ground. It showed me how we need to take the hate out of our hearts and learn to love one another. If we love a culture’s food, then we should love its people too.

Food naturally attracts people to the table. Food is medicine. Food is soulful and spirit-full. Food is us. It fuels us, and we literally become what we eat.

Being a biracial woman and understanding what it’s like not to be fully accepted into either my Black side or Jewish side, I have learned to bridge the gaps between religions, races, genders, and classes to truly create intersectionality through food. I made it my mission to help spread the love, so we can welcome everyone to the table.

So in 2017 I established Chopped & Served, a community catering company, with a focus on providing accessibility to fresh and sustainable food for everybody. Weddings, graduation parties, office gigs, Shabbat dinners, luncheons, private dinners, we do it all. We pride ourselves on serving our community with the best customer service, employment opportunities, and nutrition to sustain your health and wellness.

A healthy food distribution event sponsored by Chopped  in Minneapolis

A healthy food distribution event sponsored by Chopped in Minneapolis Courtesy of Chopped 'n Served

But our community isn’t just about making and serving food. We have initiated several different programs and resources to eliminate the idea that misrepresented communities are “charity cases.” We use pop ups, back to school drives, an entire strength and conditioning program created from the ground up with my partner Totally Committed, a free kids sports camp, monthly meal sponsorship programs, mentoring, and financial advice, all provided to our community.

Our hood consists of layers of environmental racism, food scarcity, corner stores, one grocery store, and a lot of fried chicken and fish. So through Chopped & Served’s community initiative at Patrick Henry High School with Totally Committed, we provide this predominantly black high school fresh, sustainable, nutritious and delicious meals. Nothing fried, and not too filling either.

A well-balanced intentional meal is vital for youth development. — not the chips, pop, or donuts for every meal t most children eat in marginalized communities. Reinforcing accessibility to fresh and sustainable food for marginalized communities will not only allow the dehumanized to feel humane, but uplift and empower our community members.

Growing up I was the pickiest eater, so every time I create a menu I think, What did my mama make me?— and boom —it works every time! Chicken ‘n Rice Bake remixed has become a number one community favorite meal and one of our most popular catering items. Chicken ‘n Rice Bake is a literal example of how my mama learned to create something out of nothing, and now I have remixed it into a fresh and sustainable dish for all to enjoy.

Winner winner chicken dinner is real around here!

Imani Jackson's chicken 'n rice bake

Imani Jackson’s chicken ‘n rice bake Courtesy of Imani Jackson


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