Eating While Black — a few new Demands for the list

It’s true that I shouldn’t have bought the ridiculously overpriced bowl of cut watermelon when I went out to the store yesterday. Five dollars! I passed it on my way into the market and made myself look away. Watermelon in New York City on February 28th, never a wise move. The food miles alone make it a big, glaring “NO!”

But I bought it. It was calling my name, and I couldn’t resist.

I tried to scold myself, but why really? Then I put the first pretty red chunk in my mouth.




It was so good. It tasted better than most of the melon I ate last summer. Tasted like watermelon I remember from my childhood.

Sigh. Watermelon is, of course, manna from heaven. Yes, I said that. I’ve written before about my watermelon beliefs. That was all pre-Daniel Handler, of course, but my feelings about watermelon haven’t changed at all, which is also an “of course.” Can’t let racism stand in the way of my pleasure. But here is racism, trying to get between me and my fork. *

In the last few years I have run again and again into people who have felt comfortable sharing with me the idea that I shouldn’t eat watermelon … or at least not in public … or at least not with such obvious joy. Yeah, I’m not here for that. Not even a little. I can’t get with the idea that I need to pretend distaste or disdain when it comes to watermelon. I should let ugly history and someone else’s prejudice stop me from doing any blessed thing I want to do? Not so much.

At an event years ago, I walked along the buffet looking for fruit. I spotted watermelon and grapes (a strong runner-up in the “fruit proofs” competition) and headed over. I put a small bunch of grapes on my plate and reached for the tongs on the watermelon tray.

“I would never eat watermelon at an event like this.”
I turned to see a black man in a lovely suit turning his nose up at my choice.
“That’s great,” I said. “Leaves more for me!” (You know, levity. Because it’s the buffet table, not really the place I want to be having heavy conversations about racism and shame.)
“How can you let all these people see you eating that?”
“How can you care enough to deny yourself?”

I get it. I do. And each person has to make her own choices. But that self-denial frustrates me. I’m tired of being policed even around something as trivial as whether or not I eat watermelon. In public. In keeping with my listing of grievances and demands, I’m putting up a food list.

  1. Watermelon. I eat it. I eat a lot of it. A LOT of it. I love it. This has nothing to do with the fact that I am Black and everything to do with the fact that watermelon is delicious. If you see me eating watermelon, you are welcome to ask me if I’m enjoying it. You are welcome to talk about how much you do or don’t like it, or how your mom always puts salt on hers, or how you have this great recipe for a watermelon and feta cheese salad (which is so good, by the way). You are NOT welcome to give me side eye, to make comments about how I’m proving a stereotype, to say anything that you would feel the need to preface with “Not to be racist, but …”  You are welcome to have those thoughts and keep them to yourself. And if you can’t think of anything else to say, keep silent and step off. And if you’re a Black person, and you have something to say … if it isn’t one of the things noted at the start of this item, or maybe a little solidarity nod to my defiance or some such … you, too, can keep silent and step off.
  2. Soul food. I’m never sure what you mean when you ask me if I like soul food. Sometimes you seem to mean the comfort food of my childhood. Other times you seem to mean macaroni and cheese. Sometimes you want to hear about chitterlings and pigs feet, or other random animal parts that you associate with Black people. I do love the comfort food of my childhood, which for me is my mom’s pancakes, or her biscuits, or grits, or corn bread. There’s a pork chop dish she used to make when we were kids, and I love Massaman curry at Thai restaurants because it tastes like that dish. I never ate mac and cheese that wasn’t pre-fab from Kraft until I learned to cook it a few years ago. I really like it now, but is it really soul food when my recipe is an amalgam of Martha Stewart, the Mueller’s pasta package, and The Joy of Cooking? Maybe you’ll be happy to know my grandmother always threw a piece of fatback into the pot when she cooked vegetables. And, too, she made a delicious sweet potato pie. As for the rest, I’ve never liked pigs feet, or hog maws, or anything like that, so no, none for me. Not sorry to disappoint, but wish you could stop needing to ask me.
  3. Fried chicken. I don’t eat it. But only because I’m a vegetarian now. I used to eat it. I used to love it. I used to be finicky about it — I wouldn’t eat just any fried chicken. I didn’t care for the fast-food varieties, didn’t like nonsense thrown into the batter. Because I no longer eat meat, you won’t see me eating any fried chicken. Which brings me to …
  4. I’m a vegetarian. I’m a Black woman who’s a vegetarian. I’m a fat, Black woman who’s a vegetarian. To all the people who’ve expressed surprise and disbelief upon learning that I don’t eat meat — surprise and disbelief accompanied by less-than-discreet once-overs of my body — it’s really not as unique and shocking as you seem to think. I’m not a vegetarian because I’m on a diet. I’m not a vegetarian because I’m a “roots woman,” whatever you mean when you ask me that question. I’m not a vegetarian because I’m Rastafarian and eat an Ital diet. (And no, being vegetarian and vegan aren’t the same thing. And yes, fish is meat, and I don’t eat it.)
  5. Grape soda (oh we had to get here eventually!). I actually do occasionally like grape soda. And if I buy Snapple, it’s the grape drink. But you know what, other folks must be drinking that stuff, too, because when I’ve been in very un-diverse places, I always manage to find it easily. And, too, you really aren’t going to win any points with me by telling me, as a man at a deli in Park Slope did a few weeks ago when I went to the cash register with my grape Snapple, “I see you’re drinking the national beverage of your people.” Yeah. No points. And also no sale. I left the Snapple on the counter and took my business elsewhere.

Maybe you’re getting the idea. Black people eat. We eat whatever we eat. Just the way everyone else does. There really never needs to be a conversation about it. And there definitely never needs to be anyone thinking they have the right to lean in and tell me what I should or shouldn’t be eating. Unless I took the food off your plate, or the money to pay for it out of your wallet, you really need to keep your commentary to yourself.

As for the over-priced watermelon, I can see more of that in my immediate future. It was too good to leave alone.

It’s the first of March, and you know what that means: it’s time for the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of teachers and writers (it is actually hundreds now after starting in 2008 with just a dozen or so of us) will be posting their stories. You can meet all kinds of amazing people and start some great conversations. Also, it’s not too late for you to join in!

SOL image 2014

* For those of you who are new here, or haven’t been here since the last Slice of Life Challenge, welcome … and be forewarned. I am writing a LOT about race and anger and all the ways that the status quo of this country is too unbearably unacceptable. Not every slice will be from the heart of my anger, but I’m sure that many will. My anger doesn’t mean I’m not open to conversation. I always am, always welcome it — though it might be a good idea to read my list of grievances and list of demands … and the “can we talk?” piece to prepare yourself for where I am right now. You’re welcome here. I hope you’ll comment, challenge me, ask questions, share your views. As a country, we’re standing in a big, open doorway. I’m looking for folks to walk through with me.


31 thoughts on “Eating While Black — a few new Demands for the list

  1. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I can get my teeth into this Michael Pollen philosophy of eating. It’s a good rule to follow. Otherwise, those who dare serve up unsolicited opinions in the buffet line deserve to have a little spittle spewed back to them. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. I’m a first time SoL participant.


    1. Welcome to the SOL challenge! I started my blog only a month before the first challenge in 2008 and have no memory of how I found my way to Two Writing Teachers, but so glad I did. That first challenge was really the birth of my blog. I’ve enjoyed every March challenge since, and I hope you do, too!


  2. Love this, Stacie! I’m ruminating over that dialogue at the buffet table, too, because it’s something I would never think to think. A person eats what a person wants to eat!


  3. I will be reading all of your slices because I also have been doing lots of thinking about racism and pretty much how upset I am that we are not further along with this great idea of equality and treating each other with respect. I have never heard about Grape Snapple…that was such a disgusting comment. xo PS I hope I can walk through that door with you.


    1. Thanks. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you! And the grape thing is all grape things: grape soda, grape “drink” … I didn’t know it, either, until I moved to New York. Maybe it’s a very geographically specific stereotype?


  4. Eat it, eat it with abandon. People’s judgement is a reflection on them not you. I always appreciate your honest writing as it gives me perspective and food for thought. (no pun intended) I appreciate that you open the conversation when others would not. Rage on, and eat as much watermelon as you want.


  5. I love watermelon and I love your posts!!!! I love the way you write and how you use it to make sense of the world for you and for us. I hear your issues about watermelon. I think about that image of small black boy chomping on a large slice but then I hope we move beyond the limitations of images and racism but then we can easily open Pandora’s Box with tales about Barack Hussain Obama.
    See how you have me thinking?


  6. I hate watermelon. I’m Italian and, although I’ve been here over 30 years, I never knew about blacks and watermelon stereotypes. I learned something. What I did know, regardless of my being an “immigrant”, is that stereotypes rule, we are all guilty. So we need you and all who are subjected to ridiculous and offensive comments to set us straight! I, for one, do and try to counter the stereotypes I encounter in my everyday journeys, whether they are directed at me as a woman or someone with an accent, or at others, like my neediest students or their families.


    1. Thanks, Chiara. You would think such an old, old stereotype would have died more than 30 years ago, but no. I try to counter the many different stereotypes I run into as well. It’s work, but we have to do it, yes?


  7. Pamela Hodges

    I will always walk through any doorway with you. I can’t believe the rude comments people say to you. Well, I can believe it, because you would never lie, and people, some people are pinheads.

    If I could flick them for you, or drop a heavy textbook on their head, I would.

    And I would never buy Grape Snapple or anything else from that store either.


    1. I like knowing you’re walking through those open doors with me, Pamela … and maybe bringing Annie? 🙂

      Some people are pinheads, but I’m happy there are so many more people in my life who are anything but!


  8. readingteach

    I am a white educator who works with an equity and diversity program. We do a lot of work with our students around stereotypes. I am just flabbergasted at times at the preconceptions we have about others. And, for the record, I love watermelon. And fried chicken. Maybe it’s being a southern girl?! or maybe because it is just darn good food?! Your post has made me want watermelon. Here’s hoping I can find some at the store tomorrow. Cuz NY is a ittle too far to drive 🙂


    1. I am always happy to hear about people involved in equity work. And the southern thing makes sense. I’m not southern, but both my parents are from the south and brought their comfort foods with them to New York. Good luck finding some melon and thanks for reading! 🙂


  9. I’m glad you’re still writing in March…all of these years later. I’m jealous of your watermelon — sweet, perfect watermelon — and I’m thankful for your story. Not that you live it, but that you shared it. It stinks, the way people think they can define how we live and the choices we make. I needed to be reminded that this happens across cultures and just because it happens doesn’t mean it defines who we are at the core. Thank you.
    Happy writing,


    1. Hi, Ruth! As I said above, I credit the SOL challenge with creating me as a blogger, how can I stay away? I’m glad I’m in the challenge one more time, and so glad to log on this morning and see you!


  10. I, always, linger over what you are saying. What people say to you sometimes truly surprises me as it must you. Astonishing ridiculous things that I am glad you reveal. Savor what beings you eating joy!


    1. Thanks, Kim! It is astonishing the things people allow to come out of their mouths. I mean, we all think ridiculous or unacceptable things sometimes. We’re human, and our brains do what they do. But most of us have a filter that tells us to keep those thoughts to ourselves!

      (And I totally savor the beings I enjoy … I just don’t eat them! 🙂 )


  11. Wow. I am moved – by your passion, and your voice, but by your topic, too. It’s funny how food is such a player in life. I mean, I have been defined by “hot dishes” and “casseroles” and I wonder if that is what has led me to a life where I try to eat clean and explore food. One of my favorite things about traveling, around the country and the globe, is exploring the food. I wonder if I have offended in my search for the “Food of the People”? I try to keep an open mind about the inability to generalize, as I learn of one person, or one family’s favorite dish or restaurant. You have given a whole new depth to the conversation for me. Something so basic, that should matter so little, in the big picture, yet has been used so cruelly. My guilt is probably more apt to be around how I slay my family members about what they eat and the relation it has to their obesity, as if my own is any better….. I don’t know if I have even made a comment that makes sense, but you sure have gotten my mind going! I will be back, for sure. Thank you for your honesty.


    1. Discovering new foods is one of my favorite things about traveling, too, Jen! Or discovering old foods made so differently from anything I’ve had before. Or, as happened on one of my trips to Mexico, discovering that the few varieties of a food I know (mangoes) were just that: a few varieties. A few of MANY! That was a lovely discovery, as was tasting all the different kinds! 🙂


    1. With me, too. Because I think about all the other ways he has probably limited or shifted or hidden himself. For safety, for acceptance, for the chance to get ahead at work. It chokes me.


  12. Woman! I especially adore the one’s who if the must eat fried chicken, or ribs or a watermelon wedge in public, it will be with utensils. Especially when those utensils are plastic. Now I concede there is a time and place for that, but you what I mean and you know the type. I eat certain things a lot just because it’s good food – not just because it’s “black” food. I don’t even know where to begin with the nonsense that come out of other people’s mouths when I’m trying to put food in mine!


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