Throughout history, Black women have launched food businesses to liberate themselves and their communities.
Today, Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the US, accounting for 42% of new woman-owned businesses from 2014 to 2019. In 2021, 17% of Black women were in the process of starting a business, compared to 10% and 15% of White women and White men, respectively. For many Black women, starting a business is a direct response to the lack of opportunities, support, and mentorship available to them in the corporate world.
But this is nothing new – Black women across the world have a long history of using entrepreneurship as a pathway to liberation — especially in food. Here are just 3 examples of how Black women have liberated themselves & their communities through food entrepreneurship across the diaspora.
Similar to beignets, calas are deep-fried balls made of leftover rice, eggs, and sugar. In the 1700s, enslaved women in Louisiana sold calas and other street snacks to buy freedom for themselves and their families. Over 1,400 enslaved people bought their freedom during Spanish rule.
America ended the practice that allowed enslaved people to buy their freedom after the Louisiana Purchase of 1804. However, Black women, both free and enslaved, continued to make a living selling calas to the public.
Acarajé is an Afro-Brazilian snack of ground black-eyed peas seasoned with onions and deep-fried in palm oil. Originally used as an offering within the Candomblé religion, acarajé is a culinary descendent of Yoruba fritter, akara. Acarajé is typically eaten stuffed with vatapá & caruru, spicy shrimp & nut-based pastes.
Baianas are a community of Afro-Brazilian women often recognized by their white cotton dresses & headscarves. Since the 1800s, Baianas have sold acarajé across Bahia and other Brazilian states. Although often forced to share their profits with colonizers, Baianas used their earnings to buy their own and their family’s freedom.
In the 1900s, women across Southeast Nigeria played an important role in society. They ran the markets and participated in local government. Colonizers viewed this equality as a “manifestation of chaos and disorder”. So, they increased direct taxation against market women and introduced policies that undermined female political participation.
In response, over 25,000 Igbo, Ibibio, Ifik, and other market women organized and protested across Southeast Nigeria for months. Although the rebellion was eventually suppressed, the British met many of the women’s demands, including reforms around female political participation. This rebellion remains just one of many examples of feminist organizing & anti-colonial protests in Nigerian history.
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