As America undergoes a long-overdue racial reckoning alongside the global pandemic, organizations around the world have stepped up to offer support for protestors and aid for the Black communities who have been hit hardest by both crises. One such group is Black Feast, a monthly vegan pop-up born in Portland, Oregon that celebrates Black artists and writers through food. Founded by Nigerian vegan chef and artist Salimatu Amabebe in 2016, the organization—now co-curated by creative director Annika Hansteen-Izora—hosts four-course dinners around the country that are centered around Black art.
Since June, Black Feast has been offering “Love Letters to Black Folks”—which consists of free dessert, letters, and care packages—to the Black population in Portland. On Friday, Vogue spoke to Amabebe about their mission to bring sensory, art-inspired culinary experiences and community care to Black people throughout America.
Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of Black Feast?
I started Black Feast in 2016, and we did our first event in 2017. At the time I was an independent chef who had transitioned into mostly doing pop-up dinners: I was doing plant-based Nigerian pop-ups and just because of the ticket price and marketing, most of the people coming were typically wealthier, white folks. A lot of my own community here in Portland, lower-income and Black folks, would not have been able to come to those events. For me, Nigerian food is not really about upscale dining, it’s about community and eating with your hands and having an abundance of food—I was trying to navigate the world of fine dining and trying to put Nigerian food into that box, and it was really challenging to feel like I had to fall into a lot of the stereotypes and create this caricature of my own culture.
What were early Black Feast events like?
I have a background in marketing, and I wanted to make sure that when we were talking, the assumed audience was Black, so the tagline for our meals was “This meal was created for you”— with that “you” being a black person. So much of the language we come into contact with, and all these spaces considered neutral, are very much designed for a white audience within the food world, so Black Feast was really about centering a black audience. The first meal we did was based on Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider: I took 4 of those essays and birthed them into four courses, with each course as a culinary interpretation of that text. After doing that, our first event sold out, and every event since then has sold out.