2020 has been a year of long overdue upheaval and introspection, across the wider society and within the food and beverage industry. Inequity and racial disparity have jumped into the national spotlight, but there have always been problems in the larger food system. According to a report by NPR, the gap has been greatest in higher-end and fine-dining restaurants where the White staff members tend to make up the majority of front-of-house (higher-paid) employees, while Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) tend to make up the majority of back-of-house (lower-paid) employees. Furthermore, individuals from these marginalized communities typically have a harder time accessing capital, often resulting in having to “boot strap” a business with personal debt or loans from friends and family.
BIPOC in the United States face systemic barriers and racial inequities that prevent many from moving into positions of leadership and/or ownership in the food and beverage industry. America’s Black and Indigenous communities in particular have faced oppression for centuries, and were foundational groups upon which American systemic racism was designed. Through the processes of kidnapping, slavery, colonization, and mass genocide, these groups endured atrocities that would result in systems designed to oppress them and eventually oppress all people of color. These systems became a part of the fabric of our country.
The American food system is particularly relevant when understanding the history and oppression of Black and Indigenous people. The structure of the American food system was built, literally and figuratively, on the backs of Black and Indigenous Americans. From knowledge of the native foods already present in the Americas, to agricultural know-how for the newly introduced crops—such as African rice—which would become American food staples, to the preservation of cooking techniques from their native cultures, the influence of these groups on America’s food culture and food system cannot be overstated. And yet, throughout American history, the contributions, cultures, and identities of these groups have been appropriated for the profit of others with no monetary or other benefit to their communities.
Black and Indigenous people often have portions of their cuisines and cultures appropriated, their hand in creating major American food and beverage items and dishes erased, and their images exploited and racialized to the benefit of their White counterparts. We recognize these facts and seek to highlight the merits and contributions of Black and Indigenous people.
The James Beard Foundation is committed to celebrating, nurturing, and honoring chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. As part of this commitment, we feel a responsibility to recognize and uplift all members of our industry, especially those whose contributions have been historically minimized and/or erased. We recognize that we as a Foundation have contributed to upholding systems of oppression, especially in the food world, and know it is time for us to take intentional and aggressive action to help create a more equitable industry for communities that are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism.
In acknowledgement of the immeasurable contribution that these two communities have made to the modern American foodscape, the Foundation is launching The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans to provide financial resources for food or beverage businesses that are majority-owned by Black or Indigenous individuals. These grants are part of our Open for Good campaign, launched in April to rebuild an independent restaurant industry that is stronger, more equitable, more sustainable, and more resilient when it re-opens post-COVID-19.
This new Fund is part of the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to continually lift up the Black and Indigenous business owners in our industry, not just in light of the pandemic, but for good. Financial resource is that much more impactful when coupled with support from organizations and experts who make themselves available to provide guidance on professional skills like marketing, structuring business plans, and negotiating contracts. The Foundation is creating new partnerships to deliver this value to our grant recipients in an effort to see these businesses thrive for the long term.
The Fund aims to disburse grants equally across the Black and Indigenous populations throughout the United States. Using the most recent census data, we have delineated six regions of the country, each containing 16-17% of the total Black and Indigenous population in the U.S. Using this framework, we can ensure our funds are not concentrated in one part of the country over another.
In order to value the contributions of Black and Indigenous Americans to the nation’s food culture, we must recognize, celebrate, and support the efforts of all types of food and beverage businesses, not just those that have been acknowledged for decades at the James Beard Awards. Food trucks, pop-up supper clubs, fast-casual restaurants, and brewpubs are all a part of the unique culinary fabric of this country. With this new Fund, we will support and encourage contributions of all forms and types which help to make American food delicious and diverse.
All donations will be subject to a 20% administrative fee to help cover the Foundation's costs in administering the Fund.
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