Food And Drinks

Taste the Diaspora Detroit Celebrate Black History Month and African Food Contributions to American Cuisine With Shoebox Lunches


Over the next four weeks, Taste the Diaspora Detroit plans to celebrate African food contributions to American cuisine in partnership with nearly 20 local chefs, farmers, and food makers. The weekly shoebox lunches highlight the black culture and food of the African diaspora, and help support local cooks and food workers who are hard hit by the pandemic. Weekly lunches are donated to food insecure people in Detroit throughout February.

Raphael Wright (Urban Plug, neighborhood grocery store), Jermond Booze (High Vibe Guys, Upper Crust LLC), and Ederique Goudia (Gabriel Hall, In the grocery store) were part of an effort that helped raise 5,000 Detroiters over Thanksgiving and Christmas to feed vacations last year. Their collective success gave Goudia the idea: could you create boxed meals to celebrate Black History Month in February? Together the trio launched Taste the Diaspora late last month, which serves three purposes: the honor of black history; Assisting black-owned businesses struggling during the health crisis; and to feed Detroit’s food insecure communities.

Wright, Booze and Goudia sold the 400 meals slated to open Taste the Diaspora two days after their efforts were announced in January. For local food business operators, this is a manna during a pandemic that has shut down or crippled many Detroit businesses. It is estimated that 41 percent of black businesses in the country have closed due to the financial crisis sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sale of these packaged meals quickly signals an interest in black cuisine. “This is usually not something you see during Black History Month,” Wright says. “We generally celebrate everything but our food and our contributions to American cuisine.”

Cook and farmer Azeezah Ford prepares red red with plantains and jollof rice for Taste the Diaspora Detroit Valaurian Carter

Meals are served each week by black chefs and black-owned restaurants using ingredients and produce from Detroit black food producers and farmers. This leads to themed lunches designed to enable a culinary journey through the African diaspora. The first week takes people to East Africa with petit pois, prepared from baobab fare and red red with plantains and jollof rice by chef and farmer Azeezah Ford. Over the next three weeks, Taste the Diaspora explores black cuisine from the Creole country of Louisiana, the Caribbean and the American South.

Those who ordered the $ 25 boxed lunches pick up their meals on Friday afternoon at Jerry Ann Hebron’s Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in the North End. Lunch offers a side of history and community service. A QR code on the box sends people to a website full of black companies, the stories behind the food served and additional snippets from the black culinary history.

The shoebox lunch itself is deeply rooted in black history. During the Jim Crow era, black families traveling to the separated south by car or train had to follow rules, including only light toilet stops and lunch in the car. Families often packed lunches in shoeboxes with groceries that were kept for long periods of time, such as fried chicken, ham sandwiches, pieces of cake, and fresh fruit.

“You hear a lot about Mexican, Asian and Polish food,” says Hebron of Taste the Diaspora. “But I think we created meals that shook people’s memories and made them say, ‘I want to support this. ‘Even I missed the sales for the first three lunches! “

During the pandemic, Hebron’s 3.5 acre farm served as a reservoir for restaurants and cooks who had to empty restaurant freezers and shelves of uneaten perishable food. Hebron said she and her team of five redirected food to 25,000 Detroit residents in need between March and May – emergency shelters, nursing homes, and even door-to-door to feed neighbors.

Now she’s back in gear and preparing for people to pick up the Diaspora meals at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm.

The proceeds from February lunches are giving Detroit black restaurants and farmers a much-needed boost, Wright says. It also enables 100 free lunch boxes to be distributed to those in need in the Detroit area.

With the first taste of the Diaspora sold out and in full swing, Wright, Booze and Goudia can now turn their attention to planning future events, including smaller initiatives in winter and spring, and bigger efforts for June 19th. Wright hopes the food events and mission behind Taste the Diaspora Detroit will expand to other cities across the country, particularly cities across the south whose history is linked to black cuisine.

Although meals are sold out this month, people can still donate to Taste the Diaspora online. All donations collected will be used to finance upcoming events and promote the mission behind the initiative.

February Try lunch in the Diaspora shoebox

First week – East Africa (home continent)
– Petit Pois, prepared by Baobab Fare +

– Red red with plantains and jollof rice, prepared by the chef and farmer Azeezah Ford

* Dishes contain products from Deeply Rooted Produce and Mrs. Pruitt Cha Cha

Week two – Creole
– Gumbo z’herbes over garlic cake, prepared by Gabriel Hall

– Jambalaya with smoked turkey and andouille or vegan jambalaya with smoked mushrooms and blackened potatoes, prepared by Chef Jermond Booze

* Dishes include Norma G’s Kitchen, Vegan Black Guy, Chef’s Choice Spices, Levi’s My-T-Fine Soul Sauce, Uncorked Spices, and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm

Week three – Caribbean
– Stew over rice and beans with sweet fried plantains, prepared by Flavors of Jamaica

– Bayan-brown steamed chicken (or tofu) with plantain mashed potatoes, prepared by Chef Ryan Eli Salter

* Dishes contain products from Deeply Rooted Produce and Uncorked Spices

Week Four – Southern United States
– Sweet Potato Corn Succotash with Corn Bread made by Savannah Blue

– Black-eyed pea masala and jeera rice prepared by Relish Catering

* Products from Nurturing Our Seeds Farm, Uncorked Spices and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm are featured in the dishes

8002 Kercheval Ave., Detroit, MI


Dusty Kennedy