Breaking bread and changing narratives
Eden Hagos on building community through Black Food culture
Interview by The Villij
We sat down with Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, to discuss safe spaces, black food culture and the importance of representation. The Toronto resident created the platform after realizing that her very own perspectives on black food were biased. From showcasing black chefs to hosting popular events such as "Injera & Chill" and "Doubles vs. Patties," Black Foodie is an online digital platform which explores food and culture through a black lens.
On creating an intentional space
I'm somebody who's in the States often, and I'm very connected to that food scene. But, I'm also a child of immigrants and I grew up in Canada, so I understand there's not just one black perspective. Most of the time, when I did see black perspective, it was completely African American. It didn't leave room for people who are African and Caribbean, or even African American in different contexts. I think it's imperative that we're able to control our narrative [black narrative] and to tell our story; that we see ourselves represented in different industries, and that it's holistic. There's a need for safe spaces and I'm thrilled that I can create one with Black Foodie.
The representation of black food culture in mainstream media
Representation and the way our food is talked about needs to change. A lot of times when I read about foods that come from our culture, the articles are written by writers who aren't part of the culture. Sometimes, they condescendingly talk about our cuisine and don't acknowledge that it's good enough. We don't have to elevate it. We need more black foodies and food writers who are either part of the culture, or who understand that we are on an equal plate and that there’s no hierarchy.
“We don’t have to elevate it. We need more black foodies and food writers who are either part of the culture, or who understand that we are on an equal plate and that there’s no hierarchy.”
On the support of black restaurants within communities of colour
I think we do support, but there are some assumptions that we take on. I was somebody who did that, and I had to check myself for it. I used to think that Ethiopian cuisine tasted great, but that it was something I needed to keep at home. I thought it was too messy or smelled too strong. I remember being so embarrassed about leaving the house smelling like onions. And when it came to Caribbean cuisine and soul food, I thought it tasted great, but it was something that I should order as take-out. Black food was not something that I would introduce other people to, include in certain celebrations, or pay more money for. Now, I think we need to have space for that spectrum: we can enjoy Caribbean food as fast food or fine dining. Sometimes, I hear people say “$30 for jerk chicken? I could get it for $5!”. Of course they can, but the experience will not be the same.
“I used to think that Ethiopian cuisine tasted great, but it was something I needed to keep at home. I thought it was too messy or smelled too strong. I remember being so embarrassed about leaving the house smelling like onions.”
How Black Foodie contributes to the support black food culture
We connect people within the diaspora and people outside the community to our perspective so that they can see that we’re out here. We encourage them to visit black food restaurants. You don't need to be a black foodie to enjoy what we create, or what we write. We invite people to come and participate as long as they're respectful. Through our platform, we've increased awareness of some of the issues in our community, and we’re very proud of that.
On throwing it down in the kitchen and her signature dish
I can throw it down, but I’m not going to act like I’m a chef. That isn’t my role. I enjoy experimenting with different foods from the diaspora. I can prepare a meal and come up with something cool. But, some of those skills our mothers, grandmothers, or chefs have developed are not in place for me yet. If you give me a few hours, I can whip up something pretty good. I have a sweet tooth and love sweet potato pie. It’s something I was introduced to when I was a teenager on a trip to my aunt in the States. I could not find it here, so I learned how to make it. For the first few times, I kept failing, but I eventually got it. Now, it’s one of my favourite things to make.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.