Food & Race - An interview with Eden Hagos, CEO of BlackFoodie.co
What does food and race have to do with each other? Apparently, a lot! According to BlackFoodie.co, food experience is never neutral and one’s culture plays a big role in this. We've reached out to Eden Hagos, founder of BlackFoodie.co to find out more. This interview was first published in TAP MAG ISSUE 8 Please introduce yourself to the TAP audience
Eden Hagos - My name is Eden Hagos, I grew up in a small city in Canada to East African parents. I have an educational background in sociology but decided to pursue a business in the food world instead. I am now the founder of Black Foodie, a platform that celebrates food from a Black perspective in a variety of ways. Regardless of where I am, two things I can’t live without are hot sauce and my passport!
What is BlackFoodie? How did you end up in the food industry and how does your business make money?
Eden Hagos -Black Foodie is an online platform that explores food through a Black lens, celebrating the best of African, Caribbean and Southern cuisine. We create & curate unique content, experiences and products that celebrate food & life from a Black perspective.
I’ve always been interested in food and, of course, I love to eat! My family opened one of the first Ethiopian restaurants in Windsor Ontario and my grandparents previously owned a cafe and spice market back in Asmara, so I grew up surrounded by people who were incredibly talented and passionate about food.
Food can do so many things; it nourishes us and brings us together. It can reveal so much about our history, our people and identity. That said; the way people experience food is never neutral and one's culture plays a big role in how they experience food.
However, it was a negative experience that I had while dining out in Toronto for my birthday that really got me thinking about food and race more critically. I ended up leaving the restaurant that night, embarrassed, upset and feeling threatened. From there forth, I started deliberating on ways in which Black people experience the food world differently and this forced me to really reflect on my own dining choices. I realized that on the night of my birthday, the thought of celebrating at an African or Caribbean restaurant hadn’t even crossed my mind. From then on, I became more intentional about my dining choices and sought to explore the food world from a uniquely Black lens. I also wanted to connect other folks like me and provide Black Foodies from around the world with a great resource. After several months of traveling and experimenting, Black Foodie was born.
The way Black Foodie makes money is through our events, products and consulting. In our first year we focused on building and cultivating a community. Now that we have established a name and a voice in this area we are looking to expand our products and services and move towards brand partnerships with larger companies.
Speak to us about Race and food and how the two connect/intersect?
Eden Hagos -Food can do so many things; it nourishes us and brings us together. It can reveal so much about our history, our people and identity. That said; the way people experience food is never neutral. And as a Black woman who writes about food, I know this to be especially true. For example, think of the negative stereotypes about black people that influence the way we are served when we go out to eat. Assumptions that: black diners are difficult, that they don’t tip, that they’re disruptive and ultimately unworthy of good service; the list goes on. These perceptions, which are inherently racist, impact the way we experience food. But beyond what we experience on an interpersonal level, racism infiltrates the ways in which food is discussed throughout the media. It influences who’s deemed as industry experts and what foods are “acceptable”.
By creating Black Foodie, I’ve had the opportunity to find out about many positive things happening in this space that popular media ignores- from discovering an amazing Caribbean food festival in Montreal to interviewing a group of innovative African chefs with a supper club in London, UK who created a cookbook to document their journey - there are countless resilient people influencing the food world.
Injera and Chill was a pop up event series that Black Foodie hosted in Toronto, Atlanta, and London, UK that celebrated East African food in a contemporary and fun way. It was designed to create conversation within the diaspora.
Tell us more about Black Foodies Injera + Chill...
Eden Hagos -Injera and Chill was a pop up event series that Black Foodie hosted in Toronto, Atlanta, and London, UK that celebrated East African food in a contemporary and fun way. It was designed to create conversation within the diaspora. I noticed that people who weren’t from the community were leading many of the conversations about East African food. But I was interested in knowing what the conversation was amongst us: Almost every young East African in the room could relate to the inside jokes we shared about growing up and leaving the home smelling like Ethiopian spices, which are amazing, but do have a strong smell. There were also people who weren’t East African but had their own interesting stories about Ethiopian food. The event series grew and we expanded it to not only celebrate East African food but also other entrepreneurs and creatives who were creating films, products and businesses that serviced our community.
Black foodie Black Foodie - Image by Tai Bah
What is your long-term vision for BlackFoodie? Where do you see the business in 5 years?
Eden Hagos -The long-term vision for Black Foodie is to empower Black food lovers around the world and connect this community over exciting content, events and products that educate, entertain and inspire. In 5 years I hope to see foods from the African diaspora at the forefront of the culinary world. My plan is to expand the platform to be the premiere resource for Black food culture: a channel that empowers the people creating these amazing foods. In the foreseeable future, Black Foodie will host the leading festival/ event to celebrate Black chefs and food from the diaspora, offer culinary tourism trips, publish a series of cookbooks and produce several onscreen and web series content that show our food from our own perspective. The future is truly exciting.
What is the state of African cuisine in general?
Eden Hagos -There is so much diversity in our foods, so it’s difficult to answer this question. I’ve definitely seen a wave of chefs, bloggers, food entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who are putting their own spin on things when it comes to African food. They are presenting it in new ways, discovering their culinary heritage and celebrating African foods every step of the way. I think that this is a growing industry, people are hungry for more and this movement towards African foods will continue to grow. We have so much flavour, we’ve got super foods, and we’ve got it all.
Who are some of the African culinary heads that we should check out?
Eden Hagos -There are several amazing African chefs and food entrepreneurs in the diaspora who are creating amazing foods. In the US, Nigerian food creative, Tunde Wey weaves food into important conversations on Blackness through his traveling Supper club From Lagos. Essie, a Ghanaian American is also bringing in West African flavours to the masses with her unique spice company EssieSpice. In the UK, three young African creatives have came together to create a unique and eclectic African dining experience called the Groundnut. The pair later created a beautiful cookbook named after their supper club that tells their story and shares essential African inspired recipes. In Canada, Somali Chef Bashir is bringing African food to the forefront with his Nomadic dinner series. Through Black Foodie I’ve interacted with each of these change makers and had the privilege of trying their products or experiencing their events. All of which were amazing and I encourage everyone to check them out!
What sort of feedback have you received thus far?
Eden Hagos -I’ve received quite positive feedback, when people in the diaspora see their foods celebrated and pictured in a beautiful way they love it. When we post about our collaborative event Jollof Wars or Injera and Chill- best believe, Africans and African food lovers react! People from the diaspora all over the world want to take part. I think that this is mainly because our voices and foods have been ignored from mainstream for so long that when Black Foodie began to connect our community to new chefs, restaurants, ingredients and stories from the diaspora people got excited! And it was about time.
What inspires you to keep going and what should we expect next fromBlackFoodie?
Eden Hagos -The desire to see our voices and flavors represented is what keeps me going. I grew up on amazing African food and I have a passion to tell the stories of the resilient culinary ambassadors across our diaspora. What’s next for Black Foodie is taking our stories into video content and producing high quality content that engages our audience. Imagine if the Food network actually featured food/travel shows with Black leads talking about African, Caribbean and southern cuisine? Wouldn’t that be amazing? We certainly think so and that’s why were creating it for ourselves!
How can our readers reach you?
Eden Hagos -TAP readers can find us online. Follow us at blackfoodie.co on Instagram and head over to our site blackfoodie.co to subscribe to our newsletter. We’d love to hear from you!
Interview by Moses Mutabaruka