Food Media Has A Tokenization Problem — So How Can We Create A More Equitable Future Together?

This Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenization in Food Media is meant to be a resource for anyone in (or wants to be in) the food industry interested in learning how to disrupt tokenization within our current media framework, leverage your access and power to act in solidarity with people of color, and take personal responsibility to do better.

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The followup toolkit to this one, Toolkit for Implementing Systematic Changes Towards Equitable Representation in Media Companies, is available here.

If you are looking for workshops and trainings based on this topic for your organization, you can read more about working with us here, and email us at hello@studioatao.org.

Table of Contents

What is Tokenization/Tokenism?

Tokenism and how it works in relation to systems of oppression

How Does Tokenization Happen in Food Media?

A discussion about gatekeepers and how tokenizations presents in a food media setting

Things You Can to Address Tokenization Today

What you can immediately do as a food media professional to disrupt the current food media system

Resources

People, organizations, and publications that have been leading the way for a more equitable and just food media industry

 

The Methodology of This Toolkit

 

Glossary

Initiative Overview

     Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting,

      and Preventing Tokenization in

      Food Media

Toolkit for Implementing Systematic Changes Towards Equitable Representation in Media Publications

White Paper: DEI at The Kitchn

White Paper: DEI at Well+Good

Equitable Representation in Food Media Initiative

 

First of all, what is tokenization/tokenism?

 

Currently on Wikipedia, the definition of tokenization reads:

The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.

For context, the words token and tokenism date back into the Civil Rights Movement and have been referenced in academia many times since then. A few examples include:

 

The Case Against Tokenism by Dr. Martin Luther King (1962):

“But in the tradition of old guards, who would rather die than surrender, a new and hastily constructed roadblock has appeared in the form of planned and institutionalized tokenism...Thus we have advanced in some places from all-out, unrestrained resistance to a sophisticated form of delaying tactics, embodied in tokenism.”

 

Malcolm X’s interview with Louis Lomax (1963):

“What gains? All you have gotten is tokenism — one or two Negroes in a job or at a lunch counter so the rest of you will be quiet.” (In response to Lomax's comment "But we have made some gains…")

 

Tokenism and Women in the Workplace by Lynn Zimmer (1988):

“The token's marginal status [is] as a participant who is permitted entrance, but not full participation…someone who meets all of the formal requirements…but does not possess the ‘auxiliary characteristics’ (race, sex and ethnicity)... Consequently, they are never permitted by ‘insiders’ to become full members and may even be ejected if they stray too far from the special ‘niche’ outlined for them.”

 

The Making of a Token: A Case Study of Stereotype Threat, Stigma, Racism, and Tokenism in Academe by Yolanda Flores Niemann (1999):

“I was told, ‘Now that we have you, we don’t need to worry about hiring another minority.’ This sentiment is an example of covert racism in academia, which also includes the 'one-minority-per-pot syndrome."

Key Takeaways

  • Tokenism is a form of racial capitalism, or extracting value from the racialized identities of others.

  • Tokenism is often just as prevalent in organizations practicing DEI, where it is used to deflect accusations about lack of diversity or inclusion without actually threatening the status quo.

“Tokenism is, simply, covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain their privilege by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color.
 

Tokenism achieves the same while giving those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use PoC as racialized props.”

 

- Helen Kim Ho, 8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits

Where Tokenization Begins:

The Foundational Hierarchies in American Society

In order to understand tokenization, we must first accept the foundational hierarchies of our current society in the U.S.:

Systems of Oppression (including capitalism and white supremacy, see Glossary) work in concert to center the experiences, knowledge, and perspectives of white people, wealthy people, straight people, men, and able-bodied people, while oppressing people with marginalized identities.

 

Mainstream progressive movements (e.g., feminism) often erase people who exist at the intersections of marginalized identities (e.g., a Black queer non-binary person), while centering white identities (e.g. ,white women, white LGBTQ+ people), and people with proximities to whiteness (e.g., wealthy BIPOC).

Consequently, tokenization manifests when the success of the one token minority person who’s “made it” is seen as proof of society’s progress and equality (e.g., when President Obama supposedly ushered in a "post-racial society"). However, even as “the one Indigenous person” or “the one queer person” or “the one working class person” has gained social and economic capital, the same oppressive systems continue to operate.

“People with marginalized identities are taught from an early age that there is room for only one of their kind in any given space.”

- Experimental Salon participant

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Tokenism is a prime example of racial capitalism (a term coined by Cedric J. Robinson, see Glossary) — that is, the extraction of social and economic value from BIPOC through the use of their racial identities. In essence, tokenism attempts to convince us that progress looks like BIPOC driving these same oppressive systems, as to delay and/or divert attention from overhauling the oppressive systems altogether.

 

Remember that capitalism, white supremacy, settler colonialism, heteronormative ideals, and the patriarchy, by definition, operate by privileging some people at the expense of other people. For example:

  • 10% of people in the United States now own 70% of the wealth in this country. U.S. income inequality is at its highest level in 50 years.

  • Although African Americans and Hispanic Americans make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. If African Americans and Hispanic Americans were incarcerated at the same rates as white Americans, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%. (NAACP)

  • Indigenous folks in the United States experience extremely high rates of poverty: “Many American Indian communities are impoverished, with some tribes reporting unemployment as high as 85% [...] Native Americans have the lowest employment rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012)

  • Without undocumented immigrants, 8 million of which make up 5% of the U.S. workforce, the American economy would be severely impacted: “Total elimination of immigrant labor would increase milk prices by 90 percent. In 2014, unauthorized immigrants made up 24 percent of maids and cleaners, an occupation expected to need 112,000 more workers by 2024. the U.S. will soon require more than 800,000 people to fill the jobs necessary to take care of retiring baby boomers.”

How Tokenization Works Within Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

As an attempt to pave the way for BIPOC, we’ve seen waves of DEI training, seminars, departments spring up in the last few years. However, these DEI networks often rely on a quota system when it comes to “diversifying” their workforce, or by hiring a few tokens to “represent” diversity in their organization, which only serves to reduce individuals to only their marginalized identities.

“There’s a difference between me choosing to talk about my own unique experiences, giving visibility to the issues that my various communities battle on a daily basis, always recognizing my humanity in all its complexity, and someone else — usually a mere acquaintance or stranger — reducing my existence to one part of me.
 

We’re painfully aware of the fact that we’re “the only one” in the room, or one of very few...that’s what a token is — an object, not a person.

- Denarii Monroe, 3 Ways to Stop Tokenizing People

This act of tokenization, especially within a PR-friendly DEI campaign, is particularly insidious because it presumes the token will be able to “fix” pre-existing internal issues without challenging the toxic structures already in place. This is usually because the organization’s leadership fundamentally does not want to, see the need to, or is equipped to to alter their approach or processes pertaining to how marginalized identities are addressed within their workplace; although diversity is a goal, inclusion is not.

In the worst scenarios, it becomes frustrating to the organization that the token hire is not supporting this underlying initiative — to stay static but give the outward appearance of being “diverse” or “inclusive” — and often gives way to that token hire becoming seen as the problem, because they are easier to attack, diminish and ultimately remove than addressing the true structural changes required.

From The Problem Woman of Color In the Workplace:

 

After a period of time in her new position, where weeks, months or even days, the reality of a white dominant space becomes apparent. The racialized woman experiences recurring microaggressions and structural barriers. For example:

  • Heightened surveillance of her work and interpersonal relationships

  • Repeated comments about her body and physical presentation

  • Expectation of her addressing internal race dynamics

These dynamics are further complicated by the fact that if she were to explicitly name her experiences with race, both the organization as a whole and individuals within it will deny her experiences of racism. In fact, her attempt to address these dynamics can often become the arsenal for retaliation: the racialized woman becomes the source of the problem. She is viewed as no longer being “a good fit” or “not qualified." She is then targeted and attacked by the organization by both formal and informal mechanisms (comments by co-workers, HR practices). In response to these experiences, the racialized woman leaves the organization, having been fired, quitting, finding a new job or going on sick leave.

Why Tokenization Continues To Work

Ultimately, the act of tokenization perpetuates two major falsehoods:

1. The organization who hires, support, promotes the token is a believer in equality for marginalized individuals, with internal & external systems in place to support them where necessary

 

2. Marginalized individuals have a chance to fight for a better future by achieving token status within the same systems that once oppressed them

Put plainly, tokenization is embraced by those in power and the privileged majority because it offers a veneer of social progress and open-mindedness without actually challenging the fundamental dynamics at play or forcing them to face any discomfort. In this way, tokenization deflects and defers the importance of real change by encouraging inaction and complacency from all parties.

How Does Tokenization Happen in Food Media?

 

Because of the omnipresent nature of current systems in place, tokenization happens everywhere and in every industry. In food media, tokenization can sometimes feel difficult to pinpoint beyond a “gut feeling” that you may have functioned as “the interchangeable Asian”, that you must choose inaccurate or tokenizing representation or not at all, or that that “well-intentioned” piece may do more harm than good.

 

To make this matter more difficult to surface is the fact that when those in food media voice their uneasiness with incidents of tokenization, they are often also subject to the same scrutiny and dismissal of their racial experience (or insistence the act of tokenization was done for “diversity”).

 

There are many ways tokenization presents itself in the food media ecosystem, from what kind of language is (or is not) used and the reward systems in place to continue the idea of a limit to how much BIPOC content is allowed to be distributed at one time. Some major themes we heard repeatedly were:

Key Takeaways

  • For content: BIPOC-centered stories often only have a certain time period designated for them; have one example extrapolated to stand for an entire group of people; or are inaccurately represented visually.

  • For people: BIPOC food professionals learn to operate from a place of scarcity, because there is only one "spot" available for them at any given time.

  • BIPOC can also tokenize other BIPOC when complicit in systems of oppression.

1. BIPOC foods each have a short-lived time and place to shine.

 

BIPOC foods and talent are seen as “trends”, or a novelty because they are different from the "status quo." There is a temporariness attached to highlighting a certain BIPOC food or culture, as they are only considered interesting or relevant for a short period of time. 

 

During certain occasions, such as Thanksgiving or Black History Month, a rush of content will be greenlighted only for that time period, and consequently similar topics (e.g., another piece on an emerging Native American chef) rejected for publication during other times.

2. BIPOC food professionals (writers, chefs, makers, etc.) are pitted against each other and trained to approach media opportunities with a scarcity mindset.

 

Because media outlets offer fewer opportunities for them to be featured (often because they are using said person to fulfill some type of diversity quota). This makes it more difficult for these professionals to access media attention, social capital, and economic capital.

3. BIPOC food professionals who do receive public attention and accolades are made to be tokens: a single person who stands in for their entire country, for all people in that classification (“Latino”, “African American”, “Asian”, “Native American”), or for an entire tradition of food.

 

This results in media outlets and brands extrapolating the opinion of one person and assuming that this opinion is universal to the group, which furthers the predisposition to assume those in these “other” groups are a monolith and not as nuanced, complex, and varied as white Americans. Additionally, BIPOC food pieces tend to be slotted for personal essays, and often are framed within the stereotypical, or more readily accepted, depictions of “ethnic” or “immigrant” food.

“People love the stories of 'my grandmother’s cooking,' and there’s pressure that I have to provide that [type of story] to get any attention, gain any traction, or even make a career for myself.”

- Event Panelist

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4. BIPOC writers are always assumed to and/or expected to cover stories related to their ethnicity, regardless of their familiarity or interest in the topic

 

Even for those who are familiar and interested in writing on or being featured in topics relating to their ethnicity, too often these are the only topics those individuals are assumed to be qualified to cover — whereas white writers, editors, hosts are given flexibility to cover a far wider berth of topics.

 

From one of our attendees: “I'm approached a lot to write about Taiwanese and Taiwanese American topics, but the truth is that I'm not even fluent in Taiwanese or Mandarin. I'm actually a generalist...When you grow up ‘not white enough’ for the first half of your life, and then thrown into a collegiate environment where you're ‘not Asian enough’, you're never not the fish out of water. You have to carve out your own space.”

5. BIPOC food media professionals need to appeal to the sensibilities of gatekeepers (editors, CEOs, investors) who are often white and come from similar backgrounds as each other.

 

This often means acquiescing to demands that alter the piece in ways that make it more “approachable” or “friendly” to a white demographic. For example:

  • Requiring certain foods to have additional explanation and introduction in a piece, because the reader is assumed to be unfamiliar with it, perpetuating the idea that these foods are not “common” and the people to which they may be common are not the target demographic.

  • Renaming or re-categorizing certain foods to be more easily “understandable” by a white audience, such as equating it with a different food group or culture (e.g., "pho is the new ramen"), or giving it a friendly name.

  • Softening or omitting language around incidences of systemic violence (e.g., colonialism, slavery) regardless of its importance to the story or author, because it would be seen as "divisive." This insinuates that food is not inherently political, and that food media should be exempt from this kind of reporting

6. The visual representation of BIPOC food stories, including thematic colors, food styling, and person(s) shown often have unconscious bias, are misleading, or present "culture" through a white PoV.

 

For example, this could mean:

  • Always using a certain group of people to visually represent an idea, such as clearly BIPOC foods always being the cover photo for "Cheap Eats" sections.

  • Misrepresentation of a dish/cuisine, such as in the form of incorrect utensils or accompaniments, which show the publication's lack of understanding of the dish/cuisine and/or wider culture, despite eagerness to capitalize on it.

  • A fetishizing focus on the cultural background of a dish or its creator, however misplaced or irrelevant it may be. For example, one event panelist described the decor placed around a butternut squash dish her mother, an Indian woman, had created: “there were pictures of Indian deities around the dish...even something in Sanskrit type...none of which contextualized the dish itself. It looked like all the Indian stereotypes pulled into one photo frame.”

7. An important thing to note: BIPOC are also capable of tokenizing others when being complicit in systems of oppression.

Watch our Public Panel Discussions on Tokenization

The Impact of Tokenization in Food Media

As a result of tokenization, stories from BIPOC are often ignored, underrepresented, reshaped, compromised, misrepresented, appropriated, or otherwise published by someone else who tells a very different story of how they stumbled across this “new thing.” (See: discovery syndrome in our Glossary.)

 

In order to make a living in this industry, BIPOC chefs, writers, editors, and other media professionals are constantly making internal sacrifices. Some deliberations we heard from our Salon participants included: Should I speak up about these interview questions that rest on outdated stereotypes about Chinese culture? Should I write the piece about soul food?

 

The continued existence of these trade-offs as a requirement for BIPOC food professionals to receive opportunities and access through food media show how often BIPOC coverage is done merely for benefit of the media outlet to virtue signal when, in reality, they still adhere to problematic quota systems, center the white experience, and “other” BIPOC cultures. Ultimately, tokenized BIPOC and their stories are not treated as unique individuals with personal stories to tell, but useful tools to check various “diversity” boxes on contributors and content.

“This is the food justice we don’t talk about. This is not a fascinating topic: this is the destruction of your community, this is my livelihood...in gaining an inch, we lose ourselves.”

- Experimental Salon Participant

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Adrian Miller puts it eloquently in Breaking the Bubble of Food Writing:

 

“We are seeing the end product of an industry full of people living in a bubble. The gatekeepers tend to be cut from the same cheesecloth in terms of race, class and culture, and their professional and social circles are filled with similar people.

 

This mix leads to a very narrow view of what's possible and interesting in the food universe, and an echo chamber in terms of what's trendy. Thus, the gatekeepers believe that their customers want stories from a certain range of subjects, and we readers and viewers get those stories ad nauseam. The gatekeepers may believe that they are casting a broad net, but it's actually fairly limited when diverse perspectives are taken into account.

 

Given the intense competition for consumers, one would think that the gatekeepers would try to grow their following with diverse stories and writers. Instead, they squeeze every ounce from proven formulas of success in terms of subjects and storytellers. So, how do we get the gatekeepers to realize that diversity doesn't mean showcasing different types of fascinating white people? The simplest answers are that we need more diversity amongst the gatekeepers, and more white gatekeepers who truly make diverse storytelling a priority, take more risks and make more of an effort to find and hire diverse food writers.”

Much like tokenization in the workplace, tokenization in food media is another way for media companies — historically led by white, male leadership with a emphasis on the white gaze — to resist real, systematic change in the media landscape by offering small windows of opportunity for BIPOC food, cultures, and people as an illusion of progress.

Things You Can Do Today
to Leverage Your Power and Disrupt Tokenization in Food Media, Act in Solidarity with BIPOC, and Take Responsibility to Do Better

 

This section is about what you can immediately do to disrupt the current food media system. While these actions may make you uncomfortable, they place the onus on those with more power and privilege to educate ourselves and use our own talents for bettering the world for others.

 

Please note: this is not an ask for saviors (see Glossary) of any kind. This is about taking personal responsibility for complicity and proactively doing your part to disrupt an unjust system.

Gatekeepers

 

If you recognize you are a gatekeeper, share your knowledge about institutions, access, and power.

 

1. Hire talented, experienced BIPOC in decision-making roles.

 

Reflect, meditate on, and re-evaluate what “experience” or “knowledge” you consider to be valuable, and why. Ultimately, we need to address the fact that most gatekeepers are usually white, affluent and from very similar backgrounds, which result in them holding too-similar world views and emphasizing certain traits over others.

 

2. Share information that is usually reserved to the few on pertinent social groups.

 

For example, engaging in public forums like the FB Food Writers Binder#PublishingPaidMe, as well as openly pitching contacts and payment rates. Democratizing knowledge and making transparent decision-making/selection processes of institutions is the key to redistributing power and understanding how the system works.

 

3. Offer 15 - 30 min calls with emerging BIPOC professionals who may have been historically shut out of conversations with gatekeepers.

 

It is unrealistic to offer time to everyone who asks, but even having 1 call per month or offering a short template linked with information and resources (e.g., this toolkit, past interviews, or relevant pieces of industry know-how) can point others in the right direction. Especially if you can shed light on how the chain of command works at your company, that is invaluable knowledge for those seeking to understand how these systems work.

 

4. To editors, ask yourself: What do you want from this story?

 

Consider that if someone is adamant about ideas, framing, phrases, or even words (e.g., genocide, racism), those “small” pieces are the story, and when they are cut, you are compromising the fundamental essence of it, rather than “slightly editing." Ask yourself: Who are you assigning this story to, and why? It will also be easier to assign stories to those you’re familiar with, but is their PoV the right one for the story? Is there someone you may need to take a chance on, but can offer a different, more relevant, or more interesting perspective?

 

As one panelist shared, it felt very tokenizing to be assigned a story that is culturally relevant and interesting to them, but not extended the autonomy to take the story in the direction they want, or even title it the way they expected. As they said, "It's not just semantics."

You Have More Power Than You Realize

 

Even if you do not consider yourself a gatekeeper, you likely have more power than you realize. For anyone who is working in the world of food media, we urge you to consider scenarios and relationships where you have leverage and better use those instances to push for equity:

 

1. Uncenter yourself.

 

Ask yourself: Are you the best person to cover this? Instead of acting from a place of scarcity, think of others who may be a better fit for certain positions. Take to heart that it is regenerative to the industry if the best person for the piece writes/edits/produces/or hosts it. Think from a community perspective—how can we leave food media better than we found it?

 

2. Advocate for BIPOC doing great work when they’re not in the room.

 

3. If your coworkers, colleagues, and peers have expressed feeling tokenized, don’t let them fight alone.

 

Take up some of the emotional labor, put your name behind what they’re saying, endorse/advocate for equitable approaches, both when they are in the room and when they are not. (We have a toolkit about being part of the change process at your organization here!) Being a “good ally” is not about scoring easy brownie points; it means you are willing to put your neck on the line on topics that you are privileged to be sheltered from otherwise.

 

4. Ask yourself: When putting out food media content to an audience, should we be pandering to the lowest common denominator?

 

If the outlet you are working with takes this approach, do you want to go along with it?

 

5. During conversations/interviews with BIPOC about their work, start from the assumption that you do not know.

 

Rather than theorizing, assuming, or filling in the blanks for them, ask them open-ended questions such as, “How do you like to describe your work?” or “How would you describe your cuisine?” or "What sort of recipes/features/reported pieces do you enjoy writing about?"

For New Food Media Professionals

For those new and starting out in the world of food media, you are the next generation at the forefront of the new normal! Things you can do include:

1. Challenge the status quo: Do not compromise for editors and publications that don’t respect your experiences.

 

2. Seek out stories that will expand your worldview.

Diversify your newsfeed to incorporate perspectives you don’t normally have in your direct circle. Read these stories without centering yourself. Read with a critical eye for bias, even in publications you respect.

3. Believe in yourself and your feelings, even if they require you to take a more difficult or uncomfortable path forward.

 

For example: if you receive an assignment from an outlet that you have a gut reaction to, remember you can say no; if an editor pushes back on your piece in a way you believe compromises it, stand up for your work the way you wanted it to be written and published!

Resources

 

One of the best ways to improve our understanding of equitable representation is learning from others. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of people, organizations, and publications we believe are great examples of those leading the charge for a more inclusive food media industry. If you have other great sources you would like to share with us, please reach out and let us know!

 

Read: L.A. Taco

 

About: L.A. Taco is a platform for the city of Los Angeles. We are a source of news and information related to food, culture, and community for the metropolitan area. We are independently owned and operated, by and for L.A., which means we really love this city! We aim to reach readers, journalists, artists, and partners who love Los Angeles, too.

 

As the former editor of L.A. Taco Daniel Hernandez puts it, “We look at everything with a kind of a brown lens...We operate from a baseline point of view and standpoint that the city is half brown, you know, half Latin, half Latinx, it is a brown place. And it’s not a question of whether you like it or not, it’s more of a question of it just is, and how can we have an alternate news media at all, that more honestly reflects that?”

 

Follow: Across Our Kitchen Tables

 

About: We are a culinary hub and event series centering self-identified women and gender-non-conforming people of color both in person and over social media platforms. We provide a safe space for knowledge exchange on business development, cultural practices, food centered organizations, and food ecosystems. Our community generates and supports thriving and socially responsible food-based work.

 

Listen: Racist Sandwich Podcast

 

About: Racist Sandwich serves up a perspective that you don’t hear often: that both food and the ways we consume, create, and interpret it can be political. From discussions about racism in food photography to interviews with chefs of color about their experiences in the restaurant world.

Some episodes to listen to:

 

Utilize: Equity At The Table Directory

 

About: Equity At The Table is very much inspired by the aphorism that it’s better to “build a longer table, not a higher fence.” EATT is a practical and proactive response to the blatant gender and racial discrimination that plagues the food industry. EATT is an easy-to-navigate database for food industry professionals featuring only women/gender non-conforming individuals and focusing primarily on BIPOC and the LGBTQ community.

 

Follow: Writers of Color Twitter

 

About: Don’t you hate when editors use “I don’t know enough writers of color” as an excuse to back up the homogeneity of their publications? We do too. [...] We aim to create more visibility for writers of color, ease their access to publications, and build a platform that is both easy for editors to use and accurately represents the writers.

 

Follow: La Cocina

 

About: The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses. La Cocina was born out of a belief that a community of talented natural entrepreneurs, given the right resources, can create self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families, their community, and the whole city. The food that has come out of our kitchen since 2005 reflects that aspiration and, quite simply, tastes amazing.

 

Follow: Ashtin Berry and Radical Xchange

 

About: Ashtin Berry is a food and beverage activist, sommelier, and beverage consultant committed to creating equitable spaces within the hospitality industry. Using her background in sociology, Berry's focus is on creating intersectional models that use language as a tool for creating safer and more inclusive spaces.

 

Radical Xchange is a creative agency that hosts workshops and event series, including Resistance Served, an annual symposium that celebrates and contextualizes the contributions of Black and African American peoples to the hospitality world.

Further Reading

The Methodology of This Document

 

Written by: Jenny Dorsey, Addy Zou

Edited by: Emily Chen, Edric Huang, Karen Kumaki

Last Updated: 12/21/21

 

This toolkit was written and edited by the Studio ATAO team using learnings from our Experimental Salons, 1:1 interviews, and related public panel discussions. Studio ATAO is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that creates educational tools, resources, and spaces for individuals and organizations to advance systems-based change through a social justice lens and the all-affected principle*.​

 

Experimental Salons are small-group facilitated discussions tailored for industry professionals to come together and discuss a pertinent question related to social impact within their work. The central question we posed for the Salons contributing to this document was:

 

How Can Food Media Better Present BIPOC Cultures Without Tokenizing Them?

This free resource has been a labor of love and the result of tremendous emotional labor from all parties involved. If you found this toolkit valuable, please consider backing us on Patreon or sending us a donation via GiveLively.

If you would like to reference this during industry conversations or conferences please provide a backlink to the original webpage to provide full context and credit Studio ATAO. Our mission is to shift the trajectory of food media representation by laying out different guiding principles for our industry.

 

This is a living, evolving document as we continue to learn from each other and the industry at large. The followup toolkit to this one, Toolkit for Implementing Systematic Changes Towards Equitable Representation in Food Media Companies, is available here.

If you are a company or organization interested in working with us to host workshops and/or trainings on the topics covered in this toolkit, you can learn more about doing that here and reach out to us at hello@studioatao.org to set up a time!

Glossary

 

Discovery Syndrome: Acting as if you have found something new because it is non-native to you, and propagating information about these foods/cultures/people despite the fact that it has been in existence without you and you do not understand its full nuance. See “savior” as well. For examples of discovery syndrome:

 

Equity: Equity is equality of opportunity and access for everyone.

From Equality Is Not Enough, What the Classroom Has Taught Me About Justice by Amy Sun: “Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help. Equity appears unfair, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by ‘leveling the playing field.’”

 

Gatekeepers: From Breaking the Bubble of Food Writing by Adrian Miller: “Gatekeepers are those who determine what content will go in magazines, newspapers, radio shows or websites; those who decide which book manuscripts to purchase, publish and market; those who book speakers for events, and those who approve projects and book appearances for television shows...Overwhelmingly, the food media gatekeepers I've met and worked with are white.”

 

Marginalized identities: People who have, and continue to, suffer from inequities in our society, including women, Black people, Indigenous people, non-Black people of color, low-income people, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, LGBTQ+ people, non-binary people.

 

Racial Capitalism: A system that derives social and economic value from racial identity, often in the form of exploitation. Racial capitalism was first explored by Cedric Robinson in his book Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983), which critiqued Marxism for failing to consider the racial nature of capitalist (and colonialist) projects.

 

Savior / Saviorism: Within the food world, the “white savior complex” is best observed when certain cuisines dwindle in obscurity stateside until a (usually) white male chef decides to “champion” its culinary greatness. This often happens in lockstep with Discovery Syndrome.

 

Note: you can exhibit the white savior complex as a BIPOC and/or as a non-male person by, for example, more easily accepting expertise if it comes from a white male source versus a BIWOC expert. This is simply the result of internalized white male supremacy.

 

Saviors are products of our system of values, and exist in all facets of society. For example, voluntourism. Consider this article from No White Savior’s Resource list, Why Are White People Expats When The Rest of Us Are Immigrants

 

Systems of oppression: Systems that privilege certain groups at the expense of others, including white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and ableism.

 

Tokenization: From Wikipedia: “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people (tokens) from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality."

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