From left Raphael Wright, Ederique Goudia and Jermond Booze, the team behind Taste the Diaspora, pictured with a shoebox lunch in February. Ederique Goudia hide caption
It’s been a little over a year since Michigan’s restaurants were first forced to close indoor dining.
During this time, many chefs were moving from their restaurants to nonprofit groups to do a new job: feeding their increasingly hungry communities.
The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity across the country. In Detroit, it was 39% before the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, that number rose dramatically, of course,” says chef Ederique Goudia to All Things Considered. “Now we have our neighbors, our parents, our sisters, our friends who are now food-unsafe too.”
Goudia was just named one of Detroit’s “Food Fighters” by the Detroit Free Press for making a positive impact on her community. In addition to co-owning Gabriel Hall, an up-and-coming Creole restaurant, bar and music venue, Goudia works with groups promoting food access.
During the holiday season, she started working as a chef at Make Food Not Waste. The Detroit-based group urges chefs and consumers to prevent food from going to waste. Goudia and the team prepared and gave away meals for 5,000 people on Thanksgiving in Detroit before they were cooked again for 6,000 people over Christmas.
Their work continued, providing 90 families a week with food that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
But they are not “scraps,” she says. “These meals were something people could be proud of when they put them on the table and shared with their families. … It really should be done with dignity.”
According to Goudia, food insecurity comes with food deserts: areas without reliable access to fresh, healthy food.
But she finds the formulation problematic.
“Deserts mean nothing can grow or sustain life. Detroit has extremely fertile soil and, in fact, Detroit has over 1,800 farms and gardens across the city. The correct term is food apartheid.”
Calling attention to these local farms and gardens was one of the reasons for Goudia’s latest initiative, Taste the Diaspora.
Goudia teamed up with entrepreneur Raphael Wright and chef Jermond Booze for the Black History Month project to celebrate the work of black chefs. Every week in February, the group worked with local black farmers and food manufacturers to create dishes from different parts of the African diaspora. They created hundreds of “shoebox” lunches to sell in Detroit and another 100 to give away to low-income families.
“Not only did we highlight and celebrate the black chefs and restaurants and put money in their hands, but we also wanted to make sure we celebrate and highlight those who grow the food and then do the food too,” says Goudia.
Black-owned companies are harder hit by the pandemic than white-owned companies.
For Raphael Wright, alongside Taste the Diaspora, he is working on bringing a new neighborhood grocery store and nursery to the heavily black Jefferson Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on the east side of Detroit – to alleviate what he calls the “food swamp”.
“You have a grocery store, liquor store, gas station, fast food store, and Coney Island on every corner,” says Wright. “This is food, but could you make a living from it every day?”
Wright says many Detroiters beyond impoverished communities, insecure for cost reasons, are in trouble because they don’t have time to go to a grocery store and prepare a meal on their day.
However, as more people cook at home due to the pandemic, Wright sees “a golden opportunity for us to show what food is and how we need it in our communities to actually grow and be better people”.
Goudia, meanwhile, says her work is “about making that impact and telling people who look just like me and showing that you can too.”
Jason Fuller and Sarah Handel produced and edited the audio version of this story.