Community Cooks is an ongoing, collaborative project that brings together a collective of local and national food justice organizations advocating for communities of color in Western New York.
“Community cooks” are those who feed their communities, and, in feeding their communities, hold them together and drive them forward.
The Community Cooks project acknowledges the foundational role that these cooks play in building and sustaining multiple social justice movements, and of the role that food can, and has served in establishing connections, creating and sustaining knowledge, and generating radical practice.
Therefore, the Community Cooks project seeks to support an ongoing, intersectional dialogue that includes, but is not limited to, organizations and individuals that advocate for migrant, Indigenous, African American, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ community rights.
The Community Cooks collaborative is happy to announce a set of Experiential Learning opportunities for Spring 2020.
MEZALAND is a transformative dining event during which a diverse group of compassionate, community-focused individuals will participate in a non-choreographed performance of free flowing story-sharing and healthy conversation while enjoying an enlightening, healthy culinary experience where “vegetables are the star of the plate.” All this set within the living tableau of the Albright-Knox Northland.
Students are invited to participate in this one-of-a-kind event in a range of capacities—helping organize, serve, enjoy, and cleanup the meal; constructing a video- or photo-essay regarding the themes of the evening; interviewing participants for a journalistic piece, etc.
MEZALAND is a majestic and mythical location if you will, where a widely diverse group of like-minded humanitarian, compassionate community-focused individuals gather in harmony to break bread. The name Mezaland pays homage to the mother and origin of all civilization, the continent of Africa. Meza, meaning “table” is a swahili or kiswahilii word, which is an ancient language originating in Africa; also kin to the word Mesa, in Spanish meaning “plateau or table.”
Mezaland features an exaggeratingly long table set in a pleasantly visually stimulating environment paired with an atmosphere of discovery, vulnerability and kindness. The table or the Meza has always been and continues to be a meeting place where people display willingly rich and engaging conversations over meals. Metaphorically speaking, guests will be a part of an non-choreographed performance, partaking in a free- flowing dance of words between one another while knives and forks percussively vibrate dining plates.
While guests share space and time, many unfamiliar with one another at the start, they will learn from and about the people across from and beside them, making human connection through personal-storytelling. Storytelling is another anchor of Mezaland, as being a storyteller or griot has a deep connection to the African oral tradition.
Chef Alexa’s philosophy in cooking for healthier lifestyles involves altering the way that people have traditionally looked at food. Her approach to preparing meals is, in her own words, “To make vegetables the star of your plate!” The idea of making vegetables the “star” of the plate has convinced many heavy meat-eaters to at least consider adding more veggies into their diet, without fully discouraging meats as a primary source of nutrition, subtly hinting at the linkages between health and diet. As a part of the meal preparation, she will also enlist the collaboration of other chefs and food-based organizations into the event, creating meaningful conversation and contact in the kitchen, mirroring the activity and synergy happening at the table.
There are many potential outcomes and/or ongoing projects for students, tailored to the individual student, but toward the goal of community connection and conversation:
|Length of commitment||Any|
|In-person, remote, or hybrid? ||Hybrid|
|Level of collaboration||Varies|
|Who is eligible||Anyone|
Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase.
Preparation for participation in a larger food justice project begins with participation in the Community Cooks: Decolonizing our Diet workshop on October 15th. Students should also consider the following as supplementary preparation: