Thank you to all who attended and supported the 2022 Cornell Future Food Summit! This event featured Maya Marie who introduced us to Deep Routes, an agricultural and culinary curriculum that uplifts afro-indigenous food ways. The curriculum is designed by and for BIPOC educators and learners.
The summit kicked off with a group breakfast of Cornell Dairy yogurt, home-made granola with Cornell Bee Club Honey, Cornell Orchard apples, and Ithaca Coffee Co. fresh brewed coffee. Participants forged through a windy blizzard to make it to the event, but the atmosphere in Kennedy Hall on the Ag Quad of Cornell’s Ithaca campus was warm and welcoming.
To start off the morning, Maya Marie thoroughly explained the exciting new curriculum and answered various questions about the process of creation and hopes for the future. We started with a reflection and pair-share about food that brings us immense joy. Maya then introduced herself as an urban farmer, cook/chef, food educator, writer, and artist from Baltimore and Brooklyn and expressed gratitude for her first teachers. She is also the lead collaborator and founder of Deep Routes! Maya realized Deep Routes needed to exist especially after attending culinary school, where Afro-indigenous food ways are not honored, and her days at KCC farm and the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). Deep Routes exists to fill a void in culinary education and help BIPOC educators and learners.
To understand the void Maya identified in culinary education, we jumped into a “short and incomplete” history of the field. We learned about Marie-Antoine Carême, Auguste Escoffier, and the Eurocentric food ways which many people were socialized to think of as “high class”. Even these food ways ignore the numerous contributions by African and Indigenous cooking practices. Black food leaders like Lena Richards and George Washington Carver were pioneers in cooking and farming innovations. Many folks don’t know the names of Black leaders and food ways or the extent of their contributions to the field of food and agriculture.
Deep Routes in a curriculum that serves three primary purposes. It is a channel for uplifting BIPOC stories in the words of BIPOC educators themselves. Within that, it is building capacity to support and abundantly pay educators for their work. It is curriculum development, including a host of resources and support materials for educators, self-educators and learners. And it is an educational platform that hosts cook-alongs, workshops, and deep dive conversations with farmers, cooks and educators. The work of Maya Marie and her many collaborators is helping to rewrite culinary history and cooking and agricultural education without the forceful omission of Afro-indigenous contributions.
After a short break, Maya Marie expanded on her journey from working in the nonprofit world to Deep Routes. She left the nonprofit she was working with because of its prevailing white supremacy culture. White supremacy culture is characterized by a sense of urgency, perfectionism, quantity over quality, individualism, and worshiping of the written word (see more Minnesota Historical Society). Maya also added the lack of consideration for employee well-being sometimes exhibited by those higher in organizations. She said it is challenging to restructure how she works in Deep Routes, but never it to become like what she left. Often this means slowing down to remain flexible with collaborators instead of pushing ahead with her own agenda. The audience seemed to see this depiction of the white supremacy culture in many areas of their own lives and were inspired by Deep Routes commitment to its peoples’ well-being and quality over quantity.
Lunch is ready! All participants went upstairs to eat a beautiful, local, sustainable, and delicious lunch catered by Northstar Public House. Northstar is one of the few Black-owned businesses in Ithaca and is a true neighborhood establishment and a diverse, inclusive gathering place for families, aimed at the community (Visit Ithaca). They are deeply rooted in the Ithaca community and source what they can from local and sustainable farms. Golden Bee tofu sliders, local beet flatbread, kale salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette, and local potato wedges made for a wonderful meal. The gentle buzz of conversation and connection made the next hour fly by, but left everyone satisfied and grateful for the people who grew, cooked, and served the lunch.
The afternoon session was graciously led by Dallas Robinson, the Director of Communications at CoFED (Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive), a QTBIPOC-led organization that partners with young folks of color to build food and land co-ops. Zooming in from California, Dallas led the group in a visioning of food futures at Cornell and beyond. We started with an introduction of Dallas, who is a farmer and long time land student and steward. We then grounded ourselves in a self-reflection gratitude for the people who feed us and then goals for the session, namely to clarify values and generate action items.
Next, we jumped into the discussion questions for the session surrounding food justice, land, and organizing at Cornell and in the Ithaca area. If you have a moment, consider reflecting on or sharing with others:
What are the realities of food access at Cornell?
How does food access at Cornell affect the greater Ithaca community?
How do you benefit from food injustice?
What is the status of cooperatives and non-capitalist economies at Cornell/in Ithaca?
What is the role of land in the food conversation at Cornell?
How is a relationship to land fostered between students, faculty, staff, and administration at Cornell?
What barriers are there to food and land justice at Cornell and in Ithaca?
What kind of action, organizing, dreaming, and schemings are taking place to disrupt the barriers to food and land justice at Cornell?
These questions elicited a series of valuable responses and sparked further reflection. The realities of, barriers to, and actions for food access are complex and abundant. Themes surrounding the connection food has to non-capitalist economies and land were also highlighted. In sharing, the group expressed both excitement and possible resistance moving forward. This segued well into a deeper reflection on values.
For Dallas, values like love, health, fun, freedom, interdependence, independence, play, wealth, connection, and justice serve as a guide for action. Justice, while we talk about it so often, is a value that must be lived, not just sought for. Values, Dallas says, are part of oneself. Centering ourselves with our own values, we wrote down three action items. I invite you too to consider: “What can you do right now, in alignment with your values, to cultivate food and land justice?” There are many steps to take to fertilize a more just and integrated Cornell and local food system. From supporting initiatives like Deep Routes, to fostering mutually beneficial collaborations, and every little piece in between, we all have a role to play in achieving this mission.
Thank you to Maya Marie, Deep Routes, Dallas Robinson, and CoFED and student and faculty participants and volunteers for creating a fruitful and reflective summit. Thank you to the farmers, businesses, and everyone along the food chain for bringing nutritious and tasty meals for the day. And thank you to a long lineage of food justice activists whose work we uplift and strive to continue.
This event was funded by the Community Partnership Funding Board, the Business of Food Grant, and the Einhorn Center.