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Civil Eats: Can Sean Sherman’s BIPOC Foodways Alliance Dismantle White Supremacy Over Dinner?

Chef Sean Sherman and food writer Mecca Bos have launched a new nonprofit to bring together people of color and their white allies to share meals, recipes, and stories of resistance.

By: Kate Nelson

On a Monday night in January, a dozen people gathered around a dining table in the warm Minneapolis home of acclaimed Native American chef Sean Sherman and his life partner, Black chef and food writer Mecca Bos. The guest list for the dinner, the first in a series of events put on by the BIPOC Foodways Alliance, a new organization from Sherman and Bos, represented a mini melting pot of sorts, all of us from diverse racial backgrounds and various walks of life—media makers, public servants, and others you might not expect to find at a foodie fete like this.

Although we didn’t know quite what we were in for, there was a palpable energy in the room, because we were all there for a shared purpose: to help dismantle white supremacy through food—macaroni and cheese, to be precise.After brief intros, Carolyn Holbrook and her granddaughter Tess Lee invited us to taste their family’s baked mac ‘n’ cheese recipe alongside roasted chicken, collard greens, honey cornbread, and sweet potato pie. While we ate, they led a casual discussion about what the meal means to so many Black communities. The dish—which was brought to the U.S. in the 18th century by James Hemings, a mixed-race, Paris-trained chef born into slavery who served as Thomas Jefferson’s head chef—has since become a popular food served at family celebrations in Black communities across the South and beyond.

At the dinner, Holbrook talked about being her family’s designated mac ‘n’ cheese bearer at holiday gatherings and explained that the role is an exalted one passed down through the generations. The conversation was illuminating and intimate, but it never felt forced or overly didactic. Instead, it was like a sacred meal shared with loved ones.I savored every word along with each bite of macaroni and cheese.

Afterward, we all toasted over mezcal and shared laughs watching TikTok videos that jest at the significance of mac ‘n’ cheese for Black families. At that moment, I realized just what a rare experience it was to be granted access to another culture’s traditions in such a warm, intimate way.

That’s the goal of the BIPOC Foodways Alliance. Sherman—who was just named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023has been in the news a great deal in recent years as his Native-focused restaurant, Owamni, has gained notoriety and won awards. But he and Bos know all too well that this attention comes after a long stretch when diverse voices were all but completely left out of the mainstream dialogues around food. That’s why the duo has set out to preserve, protect, and uplift food stories from the vast diaspora of BIPOC people across America through communal dinners like this.

“For people of color, there’s so much commonality in American history due to colonization and slavery, so we thought, why not invite everybody to the literal table to celebrate these diversities?” said Sherman in an interview after the event. “There are still so many barriers for people of color, especially in the food world. We wanted to create a space to bring people together to share their recipes, stories, and struggles, and to help people understand other cultures.”

“Dismantling white supremacy will not be easy, but we believe that bringing all BIPOC people together using food as the catalyst is a step in the right direction.”

This ambition is closely aligned with Sherman’s mission to revitalize Native American foodways through the decolonized fare served at Owamni as well as the efforts of his nonprofit, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, and the Indigenous Food Lab, a training kitchen for Native American culinary entrepreneurs. Bos, who worked in the kitchens of several lauded Twin Cities eateries, has been amplifying the stories of marginalized peoples through her reporting for Minnesota Public Radio and other outlets.

In short, they have witnessed the inner workings of the food world and are uniquely positioned to help bring about change.

Unlike typical culinary incubators, the BIPOC Foodways Alliance isn’t designed to help aspiring chefs gain credibility or expertise. Instead, it’s built on the premise that everyone has a food story to tell, even if they don’t have a restaurant or a platform. With official nonprofit status currently in the works, the organization hopes to promote cross-cultural understanding by telling the unheard, underrepresented food stories of elders, immigrants, and other often-overlooked individuals who hold deep culinary knowledge.

For now, that translates to free monthly communal dinners held at Minneapolis’s Glass House event venue, made possible thanks to community fundraising.

Bos said the idea for the alliance actually stems from a joke between she and Sean in which they often say, “All we have to do is dismantle white supremacy.” And while, in reality, it’s an ambitious goal, she sees the dinner series as an important first step.

For more of this story, visit Civil Eats.

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