Through her work on Black geographies, Dr. Ashanté Reese is using her research and storytelling to help advance efforts to help communities access food more sustainably.
A Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Reese is also the author of Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington D.C. and the co-editor of Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice.
Her first award-winning book, Black Food Geographies, explores the structural forces that determine food access in urban areas through a study of the Deanwood neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In Black Food Matters, contributors highlight the ways that Black communities are pushing for more sustainable, equitable food systems and protecting Black food culture. Reese’s own essay in the collection explores everyday Black food entrepreneurship.
“When I’m doing research, I try to do two things. I’m very interested in scale and the politics of scale,” Reese tells Food Tank. At the individual level, Reese connects with people living in the communities she is studying. This may involve cooking with others, learning about formative food memories, and accompanying them to the grocery store. This work allows her to tell stories that, she says, “don’t make it on the map.”
The second thing Reese does is try to understand how people’s experiences fit into broader historical changes, cultural changes, and movement spaces. “We can be overly corrective by only focusing on the positive things,” she explains. “And so for me, those individual stories always have to be contextualized with a larger structural analysis.”
Reese says that constantly toggles between these two scales, but connecting locally helps her remember that communities have been developing their own solutions to the structural challenges they face.
“Since we’ve been here, since we came over on ships involuntarily, Black folks have been figuring out ways, cultivating their own secret plots. This is what I consider a part of my heritage and a part of my responsibility,” Reese tells Food Tank. “I consider the work that I do to be in service of the larger activist projects that are happening to try to make sure that not only people are fed, but that we can do it in a more sustainable way and ethical way.”
Listen to the the full conversation with Dr. Ashanté Reese on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about the power of empathy, Reese’s work as a teacher and preserving nuance in the classroom, and her current research that focuses on sugar, prison labor, and the connection between violence and care.
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