Black Chefs Promote Community Health

Black Chefs Promote Community Health

An advocacy organization of Black chefs that has been in existence for nearly a quarter of century is reaching new heights of community involvement.

Born in 1998 as the Black Culinarian Alliance – after chefs Alex Askew and Jason Wallace met with fellow graduates of the Culinary Institute of America to discuss the status of African Americans in the culinary and hospitality industries – BCAGlobal evolved as the leading activist for the advancement and empowerment of Blacks in those industries. In 2010 it expanded its demographic focus to increase diversity overall and develop women as industry leaders.

“The latest developments for BCAGlobal include our BCAGlobal Fellowship 2020-2021, which is a virtual program that trains and educates chefs and food professionals of color. Also, we are increasing health equity through Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community,” explains co-founder Askew, the organization’s president.

“For example, we are collaborating with Bronx organizations (Bronx Health Reach and #Not62: The Campaign for a Healthy Bronx) virtually to strengthen the community’s well-being, personally, and spiritually. The purpose of this virtual program is to give The Bronx community a wealth of resources, including nutrition information and guidance, insights from a variety of spiritual traditions, and concrete ways to work together to improve their well-being.”

The Bronx is one of the five boroughs of New York City and home to the poorest congressional district in the United States.

“Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community” introduces communities of color to a new model and provides new frameworks for approaching public health in marginalized populations that lack access to food health education, Askew explains. The term, “The Beloved Community,” was first used in the early days of the 20th Century by philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. H

owever, it was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning that has captured the imagination of people of goodwill all over the world.

King envisioned “The Beloved Community” as one in which the health of all people is necessary for a productive and well community. Economic and social justices are necessary for a healthy society. BCAGlobal is working toward the fulfillment of this vision through a series of timely initiatives. With diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer occurring at disproportionately higher rates among people of color, life expectancy for these communities is four to five years less than that of their white counterparts.

In 2018, BCAGlobal published “Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community (MEBC),” a collection of essays from social-justice leaders working in health equity and the culinary arts. The year also marked the launch of a nationwide initiative, Loveisfood.org, to address the health crisis in communities across America, with a focus on poor nutrition at its root cause.

“Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community introduces communities of color to a new paradigm and provides new frameworks of approaching public health in marginalized populations that lack access to food-health education,” explains Askew. “[It] is a new approach to disrupting the current lack of awareness, cultivating a healthy focus on food, and creating the platform for systems change in food and social justice in the community. This is an approach to health equity as an expression of dignity, self-respect, and self-actualization.”

The goal of Mindful Eating, he continues, is to “remind people that our own health investment is a way to care for ourselves, increase our productivity and show we care about everyone around us and the people we love and respect. We are working to reconnect food to family, community, culture, and faith.”

BCAGlobal is also trying to help its members reconnect with their customers and clients. The culinary industry was hard hit by the covid-19 pandemic and is now fighting to get back on track. Members of BCAGlobal felt the sting.

“Due to the pandemic, members of the BCAGlobal had a shift in focus since many jobs were lost or displaced, {in addition to] health concerns that disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities and chefs of color,” notes Askew. “We can find the silver lining because BCAGlobal’s support increased. They understand the importance of racial equity in the culinary arts particularly, during these times.”

BCAGlobal is looking to 2021 to be a year of greater activity.

“BCAGlobal’s goals for 2021 are to continue our progress by bringing more chefs and food professionals of color; also, to continue training and to educate more chefs and food professionals of color about the importance of mindful eating,” offers Askew.