By: Ben Hegedus
The okra plant holds historic and symbolic value in the African American Community; the vegetable was quite literally a life saver as it was smuggled by Africans onto slave ships to help them maintain nourishment on their forced journey. The vegetable has been embedded in Black cooking traditions because of its versatility in providing nourishment and health.
The Okra Project is a grassroots organization comprised of Black, transgender chefs that specialize in fresh, home-cooked meals. Founded in 2018 by Ianne Fields Stewart, the nonprofit serves as an outlet to combat food insecurities among the Black trans community. Around 34% of Black trans people report living in extreme poverty,” but The Okra Project has been instrumental in distributing home-cooked meals to this underserved community. Food deserts across the globe disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, so The Okra Project has focused its efforts to ensure no one goes without a meal.
Along with delivering top-tier, home-cooked meals to their community, The Okra Project has helped deliver groceries to the Black trans community throughout the pandemic. The outreach this organization conducts has grown beyond its humble beginnings in New York City extending to Philadelphia and New Jersey. The Okra Project demonstrates that this level of service should not be a luxury for the privileged, but a necessity for under and unserved members of the Black trans community.
As a privileged, cis white man from Texas, I can’t pretend to understand or comprehend the experience of being both Black and trans. But I know it is unacceptable to even tolerate the hatred and criticism those in this community face from Christian conservatives and even those that call themselves the 'tolerant' left. I will never understand the inability of others to accept me for the way I present myself because I am a member of a privileged community upheld in power by white supremacy. I understand that I will never understand.
”For Black people, in particular, the kitchen is such a place of family lineage. It’s a place of community. It’s a place of love. Daily life occurs in the kitchen. And so to have that kitchen be filled with someone who looks, loves, and lives like you, is a luxury and a joy”
- Ianne Fields Stewart, Founder of The Okra Project
I think people of many backgrounds can relate to the power of food and the kitchen– it represents a safe space away from all troubles. I am a broke college student, so a meal prepared for me is always appreciated. For me, there’s nothing better than a nice, juicy, tender brisket fresh out of the smoker prepared by the people I love. The Okra Project strives to make that feeling possible for the Black trans community.
For more information, check out The Okra Project’s website.