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Four women chefs on the intersection of food and activism, and why this election is so important

By Divya Amladi
Photos provided by chefs, Illustration by: Sandy Stowe

Voting for a more equitable food system—and future—for all

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Photo provided by Abeer Najjar

Abeer Najjar is a Palestinian-American chef, food writer, and founder of Huda Supper Club, and is based in Chicago.

What is the dish you prepared for the “V” and why?

The letter "V" is made from za'atar, labneh, and a drizzle of olive oil. I selected these ingredients because I wanted to use things that were reflective of my heritage and staples in my Palestinian-American kitchen.

What does food activism mean to you? What role can chefs play in reducing inequalities in the food system?

Food activism means telling the full story when it comes to food—not just showing the final plating but giving equal value and importance to everything and everyone that played a role in leading up to that. Chefs in positions of power and privilege have to use their voices and actions to demand change.

Why are you voting in this election? What are you hoping will come out of the election?

I'm voting because I believe it's my responsibility to exercise my right and privilege to do so. I'm voting because it's a small step in our long journey of healing as a nation.

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Photo provided by Alejandra Schrader

Alejandra Schrader is a plant-based nutrition certified chef, author, TV personality, and activist living in Los Angeles.

What is the dish you prepared for the “O” and why?

I prepared a zero-waste millet salad with fresh avocado and pea greens. I selected it because it features plant-based ingredients that are good for human health and the planet. Millets are rich in protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins; they are very sustainable; and they provide food security for people with limited resources. The salad is made with heirloom tomatoes, pistachios, jalapeños, and cauliflower leaves, which are typically thrown away.

What does food activism mean to you? What role can chefs play in reducing inequalities in the food system?

Food activism means making mindful efforts to support local farmers and sustainable, regenerative farming practices, as well as to source ethically produced, fair-trade ingredients. I make it a point to educate others and disseminate information that would strengthen our global (broken) food systems. As chefs … we have the responsibility to connect consumers with small, local food producers, promote biodiversity, and advocate for policies that help make good, nutritious food available to all.

Why are you voting in this election? What are you hoping will come out of the election?

I am voting because it is my civil duty, my right, and privilege. I am voting for BIPOC in America, for refugees, for children locked in cages. I am voting for climate change, sustainability, and biodiversity. I am voting because so many people in power do not want me to.

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Photo provided by Emily Torgrimson

Emily Torgrimson is the executive director and co-founder Eat for Equity, and lives in Minneapolis.

What’s the dish you prepared for the “T” and why?

I made a leek, apple, and gouda galette. I came up with this recipe with what I had in the back of the fridge. Leeks and apples, which are in season right now, and I had these crumbles of aged gouda. A galette is a rustic pie, a free form tart. It’s a lovely way to use what’s fresh and in season and to use what’s in the back of your fridge. It’s a great way to improvise—you can use onions or shallots instead of leeks, or pears or squash instead of apples.

What does food activism mean to you? What role can chefs play in reducing inequalities in the food system?

When you eat, you vote. Whether you realize it or not, you’re choosing what type of food system you want to support. Either you can uphold the status quo or shift resources around … you can direct that money toward small-scale businesses, women-owned and minority-owned businesses and suppliers. One of the reasons I fell in love with food is that it’s a powerful way to tell stories, connect with other people, and also it has ripple effects beyond us … it’s who we share a table with.

Why are you voting this election? What are you hoping will come out of the election?

I’m hoping that this election we see greater engagement in the voting process and in our democracy, record turnout of all ages and races. I hope that it is an affirmation of our diversity and interconnectedness, and that we come out of this with a shared vision. I hope that more people feel engaged and seen and that we take a step in the direction that is more equitable for everyone who lives in this country.

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Photo provided by Irene Li

Irene Li operates Mei Mei Restaurant in Boston, where her work centers around ethical sourcing and fair employment practices.

What dish did you prepare for the “E” and why?

I chose to feature dumplings because for me, they are deeply connected to the ideas of home and family, and they are made with care and love. At Mei Mei, we say dumplings make the world go ‘round—many if not all cultures have a version of a dumpling, where something delicious is packed inside something else delicious, and boiled, steamed, fried, baked, from the Jamaican patty to the Italian tortellini. There’s something about dumplings that feels universal and yet culturally distinct.

What does food activism mean to you?

At its core, food activism to me is grounded in grasping and communicating the true value of food, and the value of the resources and labor that go in to producing it. Building a just food system has to start from there. Chefs have many tools available, and to me the most important one is our ability to tell stories—whether through recipes, techniques, or TV shows—that speak to food’s true value.

Why are you voting this election, and what are you hoping comes out of this election?

I’m voting because I know that so many people can’t exercise that right, and often they are the most vulnerable among us. My privilege is only something to be ashamed of if I waste it. I hope that we come out of this election more engaged and more connected than before, because our society’s issues and the deep divisions between us will not be solved by one candidate’s victory.

Oxfam is urging supporters to vote and to encourage friends and family to participate in the election.

Pledge to get out the vote

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