Stirring The Pot: Sade Meeks On Food As Resistance
Registered Dietician Sade Meeks first thought of food as a catalyst for change over her grandmother's table, a place of nourishment that's held countless stories, memories, and meals passed down through generations.
"I was with my grandmother; she lives in Yazoo City, Mississippi," Meeks said. "I was sitting at the table eating breakfast with her. We were probably eating grits because that's something she eats almost every day. She was talking about her garden and what she grew in it. She was like, 'Girl, I even grew peanuts out there.' It was inspiring to hear her talk so positively about food culture, especially in a space like the South, where we hear so many negative things about our food. But here she is, shining a light on how she grew food and how those foods helped sustain her and our family."
The conversation empowered her to start G.R.I.T.S. Inc. (Growing Resiliance In The South Inc.), a non-profit with a mission to improve the health and well-being of communities through increased awareness of nutrition, food history, and culture. The organization harnesses the power of storytelling, whether it be through a documentary, neighborhood garden, or cooking seminar, to root itself in the lives of those most affected by food deserts and apartheids.
"Originally, I tried to go the traditional route of nutrition education, but I felt like I was forcing it. I'm naturally a storyteller, so when I leaned into that, G.R.I.T.S. made more sense," Meeks said.
"Dietetics is predominantly white. There are probably only 2% African Americans in the field. Because of that, sometimes there can be a real disconnect regarding nutrition recommendations that are not always culturally sensitive. The more I worked in the field, the more I recognized that gap. I wanted to show people that our cultural foods can be healthy for us, and we don't have to dismiss them."
In her studies and teaching opportunities, such as her premiere documentary, Food as Resistance, Meeks puts a lens on the historical severing between communities and the food that helped support their previous generations for hundreds of years. For the film, she travels through Mississippi, Chicago, and South Carolina to reclaim the story of African-American food from the social determinants of health and systemic racism.
"When I was going to these different places, I was checking out the food scene, I was interviewing chefs, I was going to different restaurants, allowing them to talk about food in a positive way," Meeks said. "I visited a rice plantation, one of the biggest rice plantations in the Carolinas, and that was an emotional journey. During that visit, I experienced grief, sadness, and anger, but also joy at the same time. It was amazing to see first-hand how enslaved Africans were resilient in helping build the food culture here in the United States."
A notable scene is when Meeks demonstrates how to make rice bread. This Southern Colonial staple came from enslaved people's innovation of using limited ingredients on-hand to make sustainable, nutritious meals. "I talked about the nutrition parts of it, like how it's high in fiber," Meeks said. "These important components of our cultural foods that people don't know or think about have been lost."
Meeks notes that minor actions can result in the most significant changes, whether breaking bread or breaking social barriers.
"There's always something that can be done, even if it's just sharing a recipe. We still have a long way to go. But I think if we shift our perspective of what we're able to do, that can propel us forward. If more people were able to feel empowered like I did at my grandmother's table and see that they are deserving of help, they could be empowered to do something about their situation."
To learn more about how to be involved in G.R.I.T.S. and the documentary, "Food as Resistance," check out their website and social media. Follow Meeks on Instagram here.