For her 25th birthday, Black Foodie founder, Eden Hagos, went through the motions; she rounded up her girlfriends, planned a night filled with celebrations and started things off at one of those fine dining restaurants that dot any metropolitan city. The city was Toronto and the dining experience would prove to be one of Eden’s worst. The dinner, which began with what seemed to be a case of bad service, would end with the restaurant’s manager yelling at Eden accusing her of calling him racist.
“It was not a good experience. It was humiliating. Very negative. A lot of the things that happened really signified to me that this was happening because we were a group of Black people.”
#DiningWhileBlack is a thing that many of us have encountered. There was that time in Denver when the waitress demanded my friends and I (all Black and Brown) order our entrees right away because the bottomless mimosas only came with entrees. And we, apparently, didn’t look like the ordering kind. Or that time in Minneapolis, when after informing the hostess that I was meeting some friends, she walked me to a table filled with Black folks I had never laid eyes on. Meanwhile, my very white friends sat in a corner to the right of them.
For Eden, her terrible dining experience would prove revelatory and lead her down a new creative path.
“It made me reflect a lot. Why I only went to those types of restaurants to celebrate or why I didn’t seek out different African and Caribbean food experiences even though that’s what I grew up on? It made me challenge my perceptions of my cultural food and Black businesses as a whole.”
An Ethiopian-Canadian born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Eden began exploring Black food culture and in December 2015, launched Black Foodie, “an online digital platform exploring food and lifestyle through a Black lens and spotlighting the best African, Caribbean, and Southern cuisine and foodie experiences.” Since then Black Foodie has grown to showcase Black restaurants and chefs from across the globe, host international foodie events, takeover Instagram feeds in different cities, launch a food and travel web series and feature recipes that inspire a new generation of Black folks to, “cook like your grandma did- with a twist! “
What does it mean to be a Black Foodie and can you only be one if you are in the diaspora?
There’s interesting things happening everywhere, it’s not just in the diaspora. What it means to be Black Foodie is someone who is really interested in more than what’s on their plate, where it came from, and who made it.
What is your personal history with food?
Many people in the West have this warped view of Africa and Ethiopia as only being about famine which makes it difficult to showcase that, one, we have food and two, it’s amazing food. Growing up, my family owned a restaurant in Windsor, my grandmother sold injera throughout the city and my mother did catering. In Asmara [capital of Eritrea], my mother’s family owned a spice market and my father’s family owned a cafe. It’s in their blood. I grew up around a lot of people who loved food, made food, and had businesses around food.
Can you tell me about your experience creating Black Foodie?
What pushed me is a negative experience that challenged me to look at the way I make decisions around food differently. I was always interested in issues of race and equity but I never applied that lens to my own decision making around food, until that moment. I wanted to see if there were resources out there, other people who had experienced what it meant to dine while black.
I started going to a lot of African and Caribbean places and posting pictures on Facebook. I was in great space in this fellowship program and was being encouraged to take this on and do something with it. I didn’t know anything about websites, how to purchase a domain name or any of those things so it wasn’t an immediate thought. But I was an avid reader of things like Travel Noire and I was really excited about sites like Blavity that were coming up. That there were people creating dope communities around our experiences and there was a market for it. That helped me think, “OK, let’s take this online.”
How do you create or curate the content on the website ? (Which features everything from The 7 Must Try Restaurants in Accra to Soup Joumou- Freedom in a Bowl)
At the beginning it was me going on Instagram and YouTube and finding food bloggers. Trying to get my mom, her friends, grandmas, people who carry all this information, to contribute. As it started to get bigger, a lot of people reached out to me who believe in the mission: food bloggers, services around food, restaurateurs, people who make products. A lot of the stuff on my website now is recipes.
There’s an interesting gap; a lot people in the diaspora, and back home too, had a lot of people cooking for them and now they don’t know how to make it. They’re having kids and suddenly there’s this desire to reconnect. I’m looking to put up more content that’s stories and interviews, an in depth look of our food histories and experiences. I also have a web series.
What is the web series about?
I say it in the trailer, that I would watch food and travel shows with my mom all the time and it was always a white guy. This was when I was younger and I couldn’t complicate things. I started the web series because I never saw anybody who looked like me, like us, doing this. I feel that also changes how the stories were told and what stories were told. What if Anthony Bourdain was Black? And why is that the only name I can think of? I can’t think of a Black woman that anyone knows in this role. My goal is to showcase different things that are part of our community, [for example] historical sites where food played a huge role in what was going on in that community. To tell our stories with respect and dignity and give us insights into things we might not have known before.
How has this experience changed you? It feels like you got something bigger than what you went into it looking for.
It’s made me much more open and a better listener, realizing there’s stories in everything. Sometimes I’ll go into this restaurant and I just want to learn about jerk chicken and the restaurant owner or chef will start having this really deep conversation on immigration and how that affects her hiring policies and she can’t get chefs who know the cuisine cause she can’t get them in from Jamaica. I’ll go in with one thing in mind and come out having learned so much more.
Any advice for aspiring foodies?
Don’t over-complicate it. There is a white connotation to the word ‘foodie’ but it doesn’t have to be pretentious. Access resources like Black Foodie to find interesting things happening in your community. Find communities that share your interests and let them do their work. I also just like to ask people. If I meet someone who’s Kenyan, I’ll ask, “Where can I get some Kenyan food?” Ask someone who knows and they’ll direct you to the right place.