Desert Me Not: Community Dinner recently launched a dinner series in Austin, Texas, to include the people and voices often left out of discussions determining the city’s future food landscape. Working to combat the effects that a history of segregation and modern gentrification have had in shaping Austin’s current food scene, Nichole Foster and Malcolm Harvin-Conner founded Desert Me Not to address the intersection between race, power, gender, wealth, and access in Austin’s food system.
The first community dinner, held in June 2017, focused on highlighting the current state of Austin’s food climate and the efforts of food justice organizations in the city that work to empower communities of color.
“Any time you are being intentional around creating a space you can cultivate a powerful conversation,” Harvin-Conner says. “Access is a huge issue in Austin. With a steep rise in the gentrification of East Austin, those communities are being pushed to places that are even more isolated from nutritional food. We have to remain increasingly vigilant that black and brown folk have the ability to choose nutritional food, otherwise many of the health issues that these communities face will continue to exist.”
Every Desert Me Not: Community Dinner utilizes repurposed food waste to create a discussion around sustainability and waste. Partnering with local restaurants, farmers, and chefs, reclaimed food is made into a multi-course vegetarian meal for guests to enjoy while they discuss prepared questions and listen to guest speakers present actionable ways to engage in Austin’s food system.
“Our reasoning behind using food waste was to bring attention to the amount of food that is thrown out each year. We used not only food waste, but food that farms had deemed unsellable at market,” Harvin-Conner says. “We wanted to show the power and beauty that can be created from using unwanted food. Andra Steele, our [June] chef, was basically making art for people to consume.”
Each Community Dinner hosts two speakers from different organizations in Austin working to improve social justice and the accessibility of the food movement in Texas. At the June Community Dinner, representatives from Austin’s Food For Black Thought and Sustainable Food Center discussed the relationship of race, history, and food knowledge and the current programs that exist to build food sovereignty and the affordability and accessibility of nutritious food in Austin.
“We had extremely positive feedback. I had several people get in contact and talk about the different connections that they were able to build while at the dinner and how that night pushed them to have conversations about food justice,” Harvin-Conner says.
Individuals interested in attending a Desert Me Not: Community Dinner can apply online; as they grow, Desert Me Not hopes to broaden their registration process so that “people who may not have as easy access to internet or a computer can feel as if they can come to these events.” In addition to uniting a more inclusive food community in Austin, Desert Me Not: Community Dinner hopes to inspire action and broadened perspectives within the sustainability and food movements in Austin.
“My hope is that we can continue to create a positive and productive dialogue around food justice within Austin. I think we have a lot of ideas for the dinners to make them more accessible, to have the dinners in the community spaces of the people we are actually talking about at these dinners,” Harvin-Conner says. “Our goal is to have multiple demographics of people at this event. We want everyone to grow and become more knowledgeable about their own role within Austin and the larger food landscape they participate in. Finding your own place within the social justice community is the first step to empowering your decisions and life.”