If you were like me, the days leading up to Saturday’s Community Café had you riffing off hip hop legend Rakim’s famous verse: it’s been a long time, IMAN shouldn’t have left us, without a Community Café to bless us… All praise due, Community Café: Just Food was not only well worth the wait, but right on time!
Indeed, there was something really timely about this Café, taking place not only during Black History month but during Savior’s Day weekend, which commemorates the history of the Nation of Islam. Decades before plant-based diets became vogue, NOI leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, was teaching the people “How to eat to live.” Yet, unlike in his time, our time is marked by a world food system dominated by corporate interests. So for us, it’s not just a matter of being more conscious about what foods we choose, but we must also be concerned about where the food is coming from, how it’s being grown, and if, after all the “grafting” (a.k.a. genetic modifications), it can even be considered food at all! And perhaps most tragically, far too many of us live with daily food insecurity and find ourselves asking: how can I even access the food I need in order to eat to live. To bring this point home, as a part of the evening’s program select audience members were given stones to represent the twenty percent of Chicagoans who live, at this very moment, in food deserts–neighborhoods without grocery stores or other businesses where residents can access fresh fruit, vegetables and other real food options year-round.
The crowd, eager to meet, greet and vibe off some real music, was also eager to take in some food for thought–and I mean that literally. Throughout the night Café goers were able to purchase food that was affordable, healthy, and most importantly tasty–did someone say vegan barbeque?!–proving that food access is attainable for all. And because real heads know soul food and soul music are the perfect duo, Chef Israel hit us with some Stir Fried Soul Veggies accompanied by the soul stirring sounds of Ms. Dia on the 1s and 2s.
The acoustic sounds of Zain Lodhia also fit the night reflecting the return to fundamentals, which motivates the food justice movement, and to the fundamental right of every human being to real and nutritious food. As a human right, food justice knows no borders and the London-based duo Native Sun, with their mix of hip hop and Afrobeat had the crowd jammin’ in the name of justice and raising their fists in solidarity with peoples from Chicago and St. Lucia to Mozambique and Syria, because the right to real food is tied to the broader human struggle for freedom from all forms of oppression.
Another one of the night’s musical highlights was the set by Maimouna Youssef. From soul to reggae to hip hop, her set was “Mumu Fresh,” for real…the kind you wished would never end. Alas, all good things must end, but not before leaving us with a much awaited performance of her An Ode to Monsanto song. Witty and biting, Maimouna had the crowd chanting, again in solidarity, Hell NO, GMO!
The night ended by bringing the issue of food justice back home by shedding light on IMAN’s Muslim Run campaign. Blessing the mic was Mikkey Halsted performing the insightful track Bigger Than A Liquor Store with Rhymefest and Maimouna. Rhymefest opened up this final performance by reminding us “the only real power is the power to empower others.” And this opening quote was perhaps the best way to end the night, because that is what Community Café: Just Food was all about. Empowered with real knowledge, fortified by real nutrition and in the fellowship of local, national and international solidarity we reclaim our right, take back our food…and in the words of Maimouna keep chanting: Hell NO, GMO!
Photos by Eve Rivera. See more photos from the show here.