Welcome to the week, ya’ll! I’m excited to finally make good on my word to offer up my current thoughts on whiteness and privilege in the world of food blogging. Though I no longer consider this space a “food blog” – rather, it’s now more of a platform for anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist political thought with some vegan yummies thrown in (see below, for example) – I’m still interested in examining the reasons behind the pervasive whiteness I see among a group whose work I peruse for recipes on a daily basis.
I want to start of by clarifying that in discussing whiteness and privilege in blogging, I’m speaking of a very specific subset of blogging: that which focuses on food and recipes. I feel it important to make that distinction, since broadly speaking blogs and other social media platforms have offered socially marginalized groups a powerful mechanism for community building, autonomy, and activism. Pattrice Cullors, co-creator of the Black Lives Matter movement, even avows that “the Internet is the only communication channel left where Black voices can speak and be heard, produce and consume, on our own terms.”
Take Black Twitter, for example. Breaking the story of the murder of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, Black Twitter used the internet to tell the story with their own voices while corporate media “lagged behind” (Cullors). As Soraya N. McDonald notes, Black Twitter also “increases the visibility of Black people online, and in doing so, dismantles the idea that white is standard and everything else is ‘other”; indeed, Black people use Twitter at higher rates than any other ethic group.
Clearly, to say that the act of blogging in general constitutes a white endeavor would be woefully inaccurate. However, when it comes to food blogging specifically, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of the food bloggers I see are U.S.-based white women of their late twenties/early thirties in heterosexual relationships. A 2011 survey by Norén of 280 English-speaking food bloggers provides further evidence for my hypothesis: of the total respondents, 85% identified as women, 47% were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 55% were married.
Though the study unfortunately did not provide specific data on the racial makeup of those 280 food bloggers, it did find that 51% had at least a bachelor’s degree, and 70% lived with no children at home. These particular statistics suggest a white majority among food bloggers, since in 2012 only 23% of Black and 15% of Hispanic 25-29-year-old Americans had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher (as compared to 40% of white Americans in the same age range) (NACUBO); while Black and Hispanic Americans tend to come from larger families (Keister).
Of course, given that food blogging requires some level of economic privilege, it makes sense that white people would dominate the food blogging community, since in the United States white people face far fewer institutional barriers to maintaining economic wellbeing than do people of color.
Consider that a food blogger must first purchase raw ingredients with which to experiment for a recipe; many low-income people of color may not have the money to shop at grocery stores when a full meal at a fast-food restaurant costs less than $5, and many may not even have access to a grocery store at which to shop (indeed, the proportion of Black and Latina/o residents living in food deserts is around 65 percent greater than those living in non-food deserts [Dutko et al]).
Consider that a food blogger must have sufficient knowledge of photographic skill and varying types of equipment, neither of which low-income people of color tend to be able to access easily.
Consider, finally (though these are certainly not the only three reasons for the predominance of white food bloggers), that a food blogger must have adequate time to experiment with recipes, take and edit photos, write blog posts, and maintain a social media platform – all of which proves difficult if, like many low-income people of color, you’re spending the majority of your time working at a demanding yet underpaid job, trying to find employment, taking and waiting for public transportation, caring for a large family, etc.
All of these demands of a food blogger create significant barriers for people of color to make up a substantial portion of the food blogosphere. Additionally, since the food blogging community has established itself as a predominantly white one – not only in numbers, but also in values and practices – it would also make sense that people of color might not even wish to participate in the space of food blogging. If this is the case, then food bloggers have unintentionally created an unwelcoming space for people of color in an Internet world that people of color often otherwise depend upon for autonomy and activism.
This predominance of whiteness among food bloggers also means that white people are once again the majority recipients of material privileges, in the form of product donations from companies who seek to expand their customer base through blog reviews, giveaways, and other advertisements. Through this consumer basis of privilege in which white people are encouraged and given the means to consume, white people are given more legitimacy in the eyes of the state. As Retman notes, throughout U.S. history “the role of consumption [has been] integrally linked to citizenship: the consumer became the privileged citizen in the polity.”
Consumerism’s capitalist co-opting of the world of food blogging further suggests the space’s ideological whiteness, since capitalism in the Americas is grounded in the exploitation of African peoples. Indeed, the economic system of the New World revolved around slavery, becoming, thanks to merchant demand, the industry that defined the free trade of the Spanish Crown’s economic liberalization (Grandin 222, 508). In order to uphold this economic system on which their livelihoods depended, European Americans had to think of African peoples as property, excusing themselves from including slaves in “the most radical of all the revolutionary ideas then coursing through the new nation”: that all “human beings were born equal” (Grandin 1151).
None of this is to say that food blogs should be abolished or that white food bloggers are terrible people and perpetuate slavery. I simply seek to point out the racial cocoon in which we food bloggers have wrapped ourselves, as well as the potential reasons behind it, in the hopes that we privileged white people start to take the time to think about race even when people of color aren’t present, understand the institutional barriers they face to enjoying a safe and economically sound livelihood, and start to act in solidarity with them.
So please: the last thing I hope comes of this post is that readers will walk away with a stagnating sense of guilt. What I do hope this post encourages everyone to do is seek out resources to struggle for collective liberation led by those on the margins of society, and starting working such actions into daily life.
Aaaand…maybe you would also like to start working this delicious recipe for stuffed squash into your daily life? (How’s that for a segue?) Easy to prepare and super quick to whip up once you have the squash roasted, this recipe requires a mere six ingredients to create a hearty, piquant, and texturally fascinating dish, ideal as a dinner entree. You can, of course, omit the final addition of non-dairy cheese (or perhaps make your own vegan cheese sauce), as well as use homemade salsa, if you prefer.
Southwestern-Style Stuffed Squash
1 small kabocha, acorn, or buttercup squash, halved and seeded
1/2 16-oz jar of your favorite salsa
2/3 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup cooked black beans
3-5 rings of pickled jalapenos, diced (optional)
2 slices vegan cheese (I like Field Roast’s Chaos Tomato Cayenne slices here; that’s what’s pictured) or 1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (I like Daiya’s Pepperjack flavor here)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Place the two squash halves, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour enough water into the pan to completely cover the bottom. Place the sheet into the oven and cook the squash until fork-tender, about 30-50 minutes. Cool the squash, cut side up, until cool enough to handle.
Lower the oven to 350°F.
Once the squash has cooled, scoop the flesh into a large mixing bowl, taking care to leave the squash shells intact (you’ll be stuffing them later). Add to the bowl the salsa, corn, beans, and jalapenos (if using). Using your hands, a potato masher, or a large fork, mash together the ingredients until well combined. Scoop half of the mixture into each reserved squash shell.
Place the stuffed squash shells on the same rimmed baking sheet you used earlier, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through and slightly browned on top. Lay a slice of cheese or sprinkle half of the shreds on each squash half, and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Serve warm.
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NACUBO. “NCES Report Examines Gaps in Educational Attainment by Race/Ethnicity.” Research. National Association of College and University Business Officers, 27 May 2013. Web. 1 February 2015.
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In solidarity, Ali.