The Black diaspora and its relationship with food is one full of rich heritage, culture and identity. And for centuries, Black people have used it to unify their communities and as a source of resistance and revolution.
Black diasporic food plays a major role in the overall American experience, but for far too long, Black chefs, entrepreneurs and other experts in the food industry have been shut out and unable to find mainstream success.
Yahoo Life spoke with three Black entrepreneurs who are shaking up the food industry by breaking down barriers and creating safe spaces for people of color.
“Growing up in the ’hood and understanding to make something out of nothing and our struggles has really helped ... to push past the issues that we’ve had early in our careers,” James Lindsay, CEO and founder of Rap Snacks, tells Yahoo Life. “That’s what’s helping all of us be very successful and, on top of that, adding that edge that they don’t understand yet.”
Nationwide, entrepreneurs of color are faced with a variety of hurdles when opening food businesses. In Philadelphia, for example, despite Black people making up 43 percent of the city’s population, only 2.5 percent of businesses are Black-owned. The startling statistic is one of the biggest reasons why Lindsay, along with Pinky Cole and Master P, are fighting to have their stories told in the food industry.
Pinky Cole, creator of Slutty Vegan, says the most important part of getting your foot in the door as a Black entrepreneur in food is making sure you maintain authenticity through your story.
“I’m just a girl from East Baltimore ... but through all of my adversities, I always maintained my grip and my tenacity,” Cole says. “And that is my story, and because of my story, people want to be a part of my dream and want to help me to realize that dream.”
“It’s really simple. As long as you are authentic to who you are and what you do and you can create experiences for people, then you can get the people coming through the door, you can get people buying your product online and you can be successful in business,” Cole says.
Breaking into the food industry isn’t easy, but hip-hop mogul and businessman Master P is actively working to showcase more representation in food.
“We are opening doors for other African-American people that want to be successful in the packaged food goods and the restaurant business,” the Rap Noodles founder says. “We need more people who look like us doing this. We don’t want this to stop with us. We want this to continue.”
The serial entrepreneur isn’t stopping at Rap Noodles. Since its inception, he has gone on to announce he’s releasing his own line of Uncle P’s Louisiana Seasoned foods to combat major non-Black brands using Blackness to gain a profit.
“When you look at Aunt Jemima, and you look at Uncle Ben, we don’t own those products; we never did,” Master P told Food & Wine magazine. “We need to understand that we’re not going to be able to put money back in our [Black] community because we don’t own those brands. Our grandparents [have] been having us buy those products because they think it’s people that look like us.”
With the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement adding an increased spotlight on Black-owned businesses, supporting Black food entrepreneurs is now easier than ever. Utilizing resources like the EatOkra app is a great way to access more Black-owned eateries.
Watch the video above to learn more about how these panelists are taking back the food industry and encouraging other people of color to do the same.
Video produced by Kelly Matousek.
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