Liberation Cuisine | Cooking in Solidarity with Puerto Rico & Beyond
About Today's Show
(get ready this post is jam packed!)
Chef Gabriela Alvarez-Martinez cooks up food with equal intention to the ingredients and recipes she prepares, as she does to the activists and movements she is nourishing. A former front line activist - turned Chef she works through her NYC based business, Liberation Cuisine to cater food for actions and organizations and partner with a blossoming slew of chefs, also motivated by their desire to uplift marginalized peoples.
Working with food enables Gabriela to support both the internal as well as systemic change needed for sustainable liberation work. She sees the power of food to transform lives, and uses "health-supportive menus" to positively impact how people show up for themselves, their relationships and their work. Attending the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC helped Gabriela build her technique and confidence as a chef. She later expanded on that French culinary training to include ingredients and recipes from the African and Latinx diasporas connected to her Puerto Rican heritage. As she said: “I’m just going to take these techniques, and change the ingredients and cook food that feeds my soul, and feeds my family and my friend’s souls”
"The point of Liberation Cuisine is to feed movement work, to feed social justice, to feed activists...because I know how hard it is to be front line, I know how hard it is to keep showing up and keep that passion and that fire… I want to keep showing them love and uplifting them...in particular folks who are putting their bodies on the line.”
A Boriqua born in Brooklyn; a part of her heart was always connected to Puerto Rico, her ancestral homeland. After the recent hurricanes, Gabriela traveled to the island to learn and support the work of an incredible group of artist/activists through AgitArte: an organization of working class artists and cultural organizers who create projects and practices of cultural solidarity with grassroots struggles against oppression, and propose alternatives that generate possibilities for transformations in our world.
Gabriela met some of the AgitArte artists a few years ago through El Puente an exceptional center for youth and community development in "Los Sures" - the Southside in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in 2017, the artists encouraged her to follow through with her plan to do a residency with them in Puerto Rico. To raise funds to support the work at AgitArte, she sold coconut flan, using her mom's secret family recipe. This gorgeous video made by Create The Remarkable, helped her raise $1,000 for direct aid, all from flan.
The work of AgitArte is about creating liberatory models for life and community. Food is one important piece of this work, and the conversation around food sovereignty on today's show falls within the context that Puerto Rico has been a colony for over five hundred years, first by Spain and then the United States. It's land and people have been used for testing bombs by the US Navy, birth control in the 1950s, and genetically modified seeds by Monsanto. AgitArte and the broader community are talking about growing food and stewarding land, but they're also talking about shifting away from the capitalist structures that have allowed for the privatization of land and those lands to be sold to the highest bidder, (most often) the colonizer.
It's worth noting the ways in which people in Puerto Rico are claiming land and occupying buildings to create systems of sustainability and community-driven projects. The groups mentioned on the show have shifted away from the handout model, which sustains dependency between the US and Puerto Rico, towards various models of sovereignty and collectivism. Check out this article about the Jones Act to get a window into the injustice and economic devastation created by US policy in Puerto Rico and understand more about why many people are fighting for independence.
One powerful demonstration of these principals in action are the Centros De Apoyo Mutuo (CAMs) or Mutual Support Centers that multiplied across Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Gabriela was reminded of the importance of showing up and listening deeply to what the community says they need. In response to the need for fresh food, after so many crops had been leveled from the hurricane, she offered up workshops on sprouting seeds. Sprouts grow in a few days and are dense with nutrients. Good food to grow right after a natural disaster.
"Faced with the collapse of the State and the abuses of FEMA in post-Maria Puerto Rico, we have organized ourselves in self-managed spaces around the Island known as Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Support Centers + CAM). In addition to providing support to overcome urgent needs in the communities, we promote their empowerment and create discussion spaces to generate critical thinking and the understanding that we are facing a political disaster that is even more dangerous than the natural disaster." - from AgitArte.org (more pics below)
Gabriela's cooking and approach to working in community has also flourished at the Soul Fire Farm's Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion program in upstate NY, where she has run the kitchen for the past 4 years. In addition to learning hands-on farming skills, history and activist training, participants cook and eat together at each meal, preparing recipes based in Black and Latinx food traditions. Leading this food space has enabled her to develop skills in supporting people through their personal liberation journey, relationship to food, ancestry and the kitchen.
A few pix below from the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion at Soul Fire Farm. Check out the mofongo (pounded fried plantain) with candied hibiscus flowers - culinary brilliance in the kitchen that emerged out of an inspiration from participant and Chef Nadine Nelson of Global Local Gourmet, when she and Gabriela wanted to create a use for the hibiscus flowers they'd just strained out of their Jamaica iced tea. (Mofongo is in the center of the plate pictured below)
Wether she is cooking for a community group with little funding or an established organization with a larger budget, the ingredients and quality of the food are the same. This act of equity in action and solidarity is key to the work of Liberation Cuisine.
"So often folks who are really committed to social justice, are folks who in some way shape or form have been marginalized in their life...To have been marginalized and then be put in the center and say, 'I'm caring for you right now'...it’s a big statement, it says a lot."
There are so many activist groups working through creative social justice as well as food to make change on the main land and in Puerto Rico. Many are listed below in the resource section. Check out this video from the Queer Kitchen Brigade, one of the groups Gabriela partners with, to learn how they are helping through food preservation.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to sit down and talk with Gabriela. Our mutual dedication to social justice and food, and the many ways that can manifest is so inspiring to me. Many thanks to Common Ground High School and Urban Farm for honoring Gabriela with their environmentalist in residence award and bringing her to New Haven, CT this spring, helping to make this interview possible!
Thanks as well to Taina Asili and La Banda Rebelde for their music, woven throughout today's show! If you don't know them, check them out! This song "Sofrito", (a flavorful sauce that is the base of Boriqua cuisine), "is a metaphor for the potent mixture that is the Puerto Rican people, and the importance of knowing where you come from so you can know where you need to go."
MOre About AgitArte
Their name is a blend of the Spanish words agitar (to agitate) and arte (art) which perfectly encapsulates what they do.
"AgitArte is an organization of working class artists and cultural organizers who create projects and practices of cultural solidarity with grassroots struggles against oppression, and propose alternatives that generate possibilities for transformations in our world. We initiate and lead community-based educational and arts programs, along with projects that agitate in the struggles for liberation. They use three
CULTURAL SOLIDARITY: We focus on cultural solidarity with individuals, communities, organizations, and their struggles rooted in the holistic understanding that humans require more than their material needs satisfied. Cultural work facilitates emotional as well as economic development.
POPULAR EDUCATION & AGITATION: We help to build the cultural infrastructure of grassroots struggles (using street theatre and political puppetry, etc) while also educating and agitating for the social, economic, and human rights of the diverse communities of the working class.
ARTISTS/CULTURAL WORKER DEVELOPMENT: Our work requires the artistic and educational development of cultural workers committed not only to their art but also to the social and economic progress of the people most involved in these struggles, especially those most impacted by the enduring inequalities in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Resources & Links
DONATE TO: SUSTAIN GRASSROOTS RELIEF & CULTURAL ORGANIZING IN PUERTO RICO
THE JONES ACT: THE LAW STRANGLING PUERTO RICO, NY Times By Nelson A. Denis
"This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest market in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else on the planet...if the Jones Act did not exist, then neither would the public debt of Puerto Rico".
Woke foods is a women-owned cooperative that taps into the healing traditions of Dominican food to create recipes, host cooking classes, offer meal planning and cater events.
AUDRE LORDE PROJECT
The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color community organizing center, focusing on the New York City area.
SOUL FIRE FARM - Ending racism and injustice in the food system & info on the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion.
RACE FORWARD - The center for racial justice innovation.
COALITION OF IMMOKALEE WORKERS - is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work. Built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing starting in 1993, and reinforced with the creation of a national consumer network since 2000, CIW’s work has steadily grown over more than twenty years to encompass three broad and overlapping spheres: The Fair Food Program, Anti-Slavery Campaign, and The Campaign for Fair Food.
HARRIET'S APOTHECARY - Harriet’s Apothecary is an intergenerational, healing village led by the brilliance and wisdom of Black Cis Women, Queer and Trans healers, artists, health professionals, magicians, activists and ancestors. Our village, founded by Harriet Tubman and Adaku Utah on April 6 2014, is committed to co-creating accessible, affordable, liberatory, all-body loving, all-gender honoring, community healing spaces that recognize, inspire, and deepen the healing genius of people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of color and the allies that love us.
TUNDE WEY - Chef & Writer
Check out his site, to learn about him in his own words, and Check out this article about some of his recent work to use food to create experiences and start conversations about power, dominance and privilege.
Thank you Gabriela for bringing all your radical deliciousness!