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Carolyn Holbrook and Tess Lee's Mac & Cheese

By: Mecca Bos

When we started thinking about BIPOC Foodways Alliance Table (BFAT) we had one goal in mind: dismantling white supremacy through food.

What do we mean by this?

Like most industries and institutions in this country, the food world offers most of its credibility to white men. But we believe that the people who are most likely to hold culinary knowledge and wisdom are women, elders, immigrants, and women of color—the same people mainstream food media has traditionally had a tendency to marginalize.

BIPOC Foodways Alliance (BFAT) aims to preserve, protect, and uplift food stories from the vast diaspora of BIPOC people in the US and around the world. Everyone has a food story, and every one is important—even if you happen to to not have a restaurant, or even want one.

We want to increase cross-cultural understanding, so that BIPOC people, and white people alike, stop siloing, and instead support one another’s customs and efforts—in this case gathering around a shared table and learning about one another via the powerful tool of food.

BFAT understands that we are stronger together. When all BIPOC people join forces, white supremacy loses.

On January 30, 2023, we hosted our first of many BFAT Tables at our home in Minneapolis. Our guest hosts were Carolyn Holbrook, writer, educator, and an advocate for the healing power of the arts; and her granddaughter Tess Lee, communications expert, Black foodie, and all around great woman. When I reached out to Tess and asked: “Did your grandma cook while you were growing up? Does she cook now?” She replied: “Nope! Not really then or now. She always used to apologize that she wasn’t a “domestic” grandma, which I never minded, but she’s been the residential mac & cheese lady for holidays my whole life, tho,” I knew that theirs was a story I wanted to tell.

You see, Carolyn is a writer, an activist, an educator. I had a grandma like that—she devoted her life to knowledge and books, not pots and pans. But she still had a food story to tell. “Residential Mac & Cheese Lady,” is an exalted position to have in Black culture. If you don’t believe me, just Google “Black mac & cheese” right now and you’ll see what I mean. The memes abound. You need 5-7 years of experience—and preferably a lot more than that-- to become the designated bringer of the mac and cheese to any Black holiday table.

Theirs is a story we wanted to preserve and uplift—we wanted to share this tradition with people who might not have experienced it, and we wanted to highlight two generations of Black women—in other words, a story you’re not likely to hear in mainstream food media culture.

Highlights from this meal included not only the glorious pan of M&C, but also their family recipe collard greens with neckbones, roast chicken, honey cornbread, sweet potato pie, and some organic conversation that flowed, such as why we use silverware (not every culture does—keep an eye peeled for a future BFAT Table on Nigerian fufu).

Guests hailed from a diverse swath of Twin Cities residents: Black people, Native people, Latinx people, Southeast Asian People, white people—Carolyn and Tess even discovered that they were related, by blood, to another guest! Long lost cousins, reunited at our table.

BFAT Table is not sharing recipes in the traditional sense—the goal of our work is not to inspire you go off and make a dish, siloed in your own kitchen—but rather to seek out someone who knows that food, and ideally form bonds around it, which is after all, what the table was designed for. Sharing.

Thank you for your interest and support of BIPOC Foodways Table. We know that dismantling white supremacy will not be easy, but we also know it’s possible. To dismantle [ dis-man-tl ]: “to take a structure to pieces.”

We plan to do it one bite at a time.


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