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MSP Mag: BIPOC Foodways Alliance Brings New Stories to the Table

BIPOC Foodways Alliance Brings New Stories to the Table

In a dinner party setting, Mecca Bos gives voice to diverse food stories.

by Stephanie March

February 9, 2023

In an interview or article, when a chef credits a grandmother for the story of a dish, have you ever looked beyond the compliment and wondered what her actual story was? What her life was like and what made that dish important enough to pass down? Mecca Bos wonders. In fact, over the past couple of years, the writer/chef has been keenly seeking those kinds of out-of-the-way stories, ones that may not get as much light.

Through her BIPOC Foodways Alliance, she’s worked on podcasts and articles highlighting the food stories of diverse and multicultural tastemakers. She’s written about an East African deli owner working on a twist on American wraps, documented a collaborative cooking hour between Hmong chef Yia Vang and Hmong artist Pao Houa Her, and foraged with an Ojibwe elder, among many other projects. This year, she hopes to advance her work and register BIPOC Foodways Alliance as a 501(c)(3) while expanding the storytelling in significant ways.“We’re launching a dinner series, the BIPOC Foodways Table, but it’s not really about chefs and restaurants,” she says. “It’s about finding those people who have a food story but not a platform to tell it. They don’t have cookbooks or a restaurant or a food truck, but maybe they are the keepers of their family’s food history or play an important role in the feeding of their community. Our goal is to create a very intimate dinner, only maybe 10 people, where Sean [Sherman] and I create and cook the meal while we listen and learn their stories. We’ll document it all on video, audio, and in print and give it to the storytellers and their community as a gift to use how they like.”

The first table in the series focuses on the food of Carolyn Holbrook, a writer and educator who is the grandmother of Tess Lee, also a writer and an activist who is close friends with Bos. Holbrook is the “designated macaroni and cheese bringer” in her family, a role well established in the Black community, especially around the holidays, though maybe never so richly documented.Bos plans to pay the subjects for their time and stories, “so any donations will go directly into the pockets of the people who love cooking but are not equipped to deal with the many, many barriers to entry into the restaurant world.”

Not that this is all just about hanging out with grandmas in kitchens. “Just because this isn’t restaurant food, I don’t want people getting the idea that it’s not going to be sexy,” Bos points out. “We are going to have a beautiful room with perfect lighting, excellent music, good things to drink, and beautiful people serving it all. Don’t think folksy or homey or anything fusty about this. This table is going to be a party, heard?” Heard.

Get tickets to the BIPOC Foodways Alliance launch and fundraiser on Feb. 28. This story is part of the Local Taste Makers & Food Slayers cover story for the February issue. To read the rest, find it on newsstands now.

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