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SEPTEMBER 2009

The Kitchen Sisters at work


Sometimes we find the story. Sometimes the story finds us.

The Food Fight exhibit at the California Endowment in Los Angeles, which featured the work of HEAC Youth Ambassadors from The Accelerated High School in South Los Angeles, found us and led us to our most recent Hidden Kitchen story on NPR's Morning Edition. That's the morning news magazine on public radio that about 14 million people listen to everyday where our radio stories of food, land and community are broadcast.

We call ourselves The Kitchen Sisters. We are old friends who have been making radio stories together for years. Davia started doing radio in high school and college and we met right after that and began doing a live show together on a community radio station. The series we do is called Hidden Kitchens -- it's about secret, unexpected, below-the-radar cooking across America -- how communities come together through food. We feature unsung kitchen heros from across America -- high school students, grandmothers, farmers, musicians, NASCAR drivers, people growing urban gardens, and making healthy neighborhood grocery stores. We do stories from all around the country, even around the world.

 

The Kitchen Sisters Stories

We have done stories about homeless people cooking on the streets on George Foreman Grills to get a hot meal, and how the legendary boxer George Foreman, grew up hungry and angry and poor and how he transformed himself. Our Hidden Kitchen story Deep Fried Fuel is about biodiesel, fuel made from restaurant grease and crops. Space Food is about NASA astronauts and what they eat in space. The Cabyard Kitchen is about a midnight, rolling night kitchen that appeared every night at dark to feed the all-night taxi drivers and disappered at dawn.

Our latest story, The Breadbasket Blues, chronicles stories in California's fertile central valley -- a region with some of the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The students of the HEAC project were part of the inspiration for Breadbasket Blues and were part of the big public event we did at The California Endowment this past May. We had gone to see the exhibit Food Fight last year in downtown LA, at the California Endowment, that showed young people across the state working on food issues in their own community, becoming kitchen activists to grapple with the lack of good food and healthy living options around them. We looked at the photographs and videos of The Accelerated High students doing the Market Makeovers, urging neighborhood grocery stores to stock their shelves with fresh produce, moving the junk food a bit further back, and the healthy food a bit closer to the front, making the stores more welcoming, community places, turning themselves into spokespeople who could advocate on behalf of their communities. The students were outraged as to what lengths they had to go, and costs they had to incur to get healthy, accessible, delicous food, and began to document their experiences and efforts. That's where we came in.

Seeing some of these efforts displayed in a gallery, along with the projects of young people in the Central Valley who were fighting to improve the environmental factors that led to people staying inside and not going out to exercise and play -- conditions like no sidewalks, no streetlights, gangs, drugs, even wild dogs that intimidated people as they attempt to walk to school or stroll the neighborhood. We wanted to capture some of the kitchen pioneering efforts in our radio show and in our live event at The Endowment. So we headed for Fresno and Bakersfield and Kettleman City to record. And we also asked Britanni, Susana, and Jessica from The Accelerated School to join us onstage that night in May to give the audience a first hand account of the Market Makeover project. The program that night also featured young women from the Homegirl Cafe, a project for former gang girls in LA who are learning restauranteuring and catering; the People's Grocery in Oakland who are bringing fresh food groceries and urban farming to some of the food deserts of downtown Oakland; and the Greenfield Walking Group from Bakersfield who have transformed a drug and gang infested neighborhood park into a place where families walk, play, exercise and cook together.

 

A Secret Civil Rights Kitchen - Gilmore

Food is what we all have in common. It's our universal language. It crosses all kinds of divides. It's the glue that brings people together, and keeps our bodies and traditions healthy and alive and vibrant. We try to capture the spirits and stories of people who cook, who stir up soup and tacos and and a little trouble, who look at the issues in their communties and see how they can enhance and transform their neighborhoods. One of our Hidden Kitchen stories was called Georgia Gilmore and The Club From Nowhere. In the 1950s, Georgia lived in the in Montgomery, Alabama, where Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus and triggered the bus boycott to integrate public transportation. Georgia lost her job cooking at a local restaurant when she supported the boycott.

Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a new young preacher in town at that time, and who liked Georgia's fried chicken, helped her open a secret civil rights restaurant in her house, the first integrated dining space in the city. Georgia would get women from across town to bake pies and cakes and sell them to raise gas money to support transportation for all the black people boycotting the buses so they could still make it to work. She called her kitchen sisterhood The Club From Nowhere and raised hundreds of dollars for the civil rights movement every week. In the hands of the right person even a pie can be a weapon for social change.

In the hands of the HEAC Youth Ambassadors from The Accelerated School we see a new generation of smart and funny and inspired kitchen activists, young people who glue their community together through food.

 

See you next month, with more hidden kitchen stories from across California and the country.

Until then, check out our site. . .

The Kitchen Sisters at work - Forager