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Nourishing activism

A new cookbook offers recipes to fuel a movement

From “Feed the Resistance” (2017)

Chronicle Books

Resistance is hard work.

It’s showing up to community action meetings after a full day on the job. It’s finding a babysitter for the kids so you can get to the rally (or towing them along). It’s knocking on doors and making phone calls. It’s tough conversations in public and deft navigation in comment threads. It’s processing and responding to a nonstop onslaught of bad news.     

And it makes you hungry.

For people on the margins, this kind of work has never been optional. People of color, LGBT+ and disabled individuals, and other communities have long histories of joining together in their own defense. In the past year, many who never had to fight for themselves woke up to the need to fight for others.

Even with the best intentions, it’s not always easy to know how to begin. Cookbook author Julia Turshen is one of those who found herself asking what she could do, as a person of privilege, to join the resistance in a supportive way. She’s co-authored cookbooks with the likes of Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow and penned articles for Vogue and Bon Appetit. Her book on accessible home cooking, “Small Victories,” was named one of the best cookbooks of fall 2016 by The New York Times.

Turshen often cooks for volunteer organizations with missions to feed the sick, poor, and homebound. “I haven’t always quite seen the connection between this kind of work and the resistance,” she writes in her new book, “Feed the Resistance.” “It took something else for me to connect the dots.”

That something came after a post-election meeting at her local branch of Citizen Action of New York (she lives in the Hudson Valley), when the meeting leader recruited her to lead a food team for the group.

“In that moment,” Turshen writes, “[she] let me know exactly how I could both reframe the work I was already doing and also amplify it.

“Together we would make sure there was something to eat at every single meeting at our Citizen Action branch. Together we would make sure [the] organizers didn’t have to think about what was for dinner. In saving them that time and providing the food, they could continue their important work and be guaranteed the comfort and nourishment of a homemade meal.”

“Feed the Resistance,” a pocket-sized volume (the proceeds from which go to the ACLU), came directly out of this work. It features 30 recipes (some by Turshen, others by a diverse array of contributors at the intersection of food and activism) in three categories: Easy Meals for Folks who are Too Busy Resisting to Cook; Feeding the Masses: Food for Crowds; and Baked Goods + Portable Snacks. As the headings suggest, these are things you can cook for any gathering—not just an envelope-stuffing meeting, but also a night in with friends or a church potluck.

“Cooking,” Turshen writes, “cannot only balm our emotions and sustain [our work], it is also a constant reminder of transformation and possibility.”

The recipes are as varied as the communities doing the work. A Thai yellow curry vegetable pot recipe is followed by sheet pan sausage, potatoes, and red cabbage. Variations on arroz a caballo sit alongside a tikka masala macaroni and cheese and The People’s Grits. There’s suugo, a Somali pasta sauce, and an angel food bread pudding with butterscotch sauce. (As a single mom of three, I’m adding quite a few of these affordable, nourishing meals to my repertoire.)

Turshen’s recipe curation reflects her approach to community action, which is based in listening to people who aren’t like her. There’s a refreshing humility here, aimed at educating rather than shaming readers who might unwittingly tend towards white savior-ism. “Feed the Resistance” becomes much more than the basic cookbook it could be, in large part because of the five eloquent essays by various activists that anchor it, with titles like “How Food Can Help End Recidivism” and “Food is Like Sex. It is the Provocation.”

Five principles from Stephen Satterfield, the founder of Whetstone, a publication about food origins and culture, provide the book’s foundation for feeding the resistance. He suggests in a short essay that food should be accessible, simple, global, efficient, and vegan (though the book has receipes for meat eaters, too).

With this starting point, the path to sustainable activism becomes as straightforward as standing in a kitchen with one’s fellow human beings, stirring diversity and action in a single pot.

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