In June 2020, when the murder of Mike Brown jolted the country out of the myth of post-racial America, there was a ripple effect that forced literally every industry to examine the white supremacy embedded deep within them.
Suddenly, demands Black people had been making for decades were finally heard. Board rooms actively sought diverse representation, black squares populated Instagram feeds (some of these initiatives were less helpful than others). At last, there began a wider conversation about ingrained and internalized racism.
Some of the slight changes which have stuck include: interior design and real estate professionals everywhere have replaced the term “master” bedroom with “primary” bedroom. Aurora James and the 15% Pledge have campaigned for more equal brand representation at major retailers. And racist mascots like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben have been removed from grocery store shelves.
The latter were some of the most prominent vestiges of stereotypes that started during slavery. Enslaved Black domestics became the faces of quiet servitude in the home — always there with a smile and a warm meal but nothing else.
According to the NBC article titled “Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben deserve retirement. They're racist myths of happy Black servitude… The character of Aunt Jemima is an invitation to white people to indulge in a fantasy of enslaved people — and by extension, all of Black America — as submissive, self-effacing, loyal, pacified and pacifying. It positions Black people as boxed in, prepackaged and ready to satisfy; it’s the problem of all consumption, only laced with racial overtones.”
NPR analyzed the history of the food industry’s stereotypes and what they perpetuate, saying: “Aunt Jemima has been criticized as an image harkening back to slavery. Old Aunt Jemima originated as a song of field slaves that was later performed at minstrel shows …Both Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's have been criticized for relying on the titles aunt and uncle, which historically were used by people who resisted applying the honorific Mr. or Ms. to a Black person.”
These historical attitudes have reduced Black people to smiling characters of consumption, while never letting them rise to prominence in the culinary world. Of course, there have been successful Black chefs but many of them are constrained to the realm of soul food. Being boxed in like this is damaging.
In a 2021 study from Deloitte and The Food Industry Association, it was revealed that 65% of food product suppliers acknowledge that their leadership does not represent the general population. They also found that “women and historically marginalized people made up only 35% of the executive boards of food and beverage companies.” These companies are also trying to open up the industry to new talent.
Instead of waiting for a seat at the proverbial dinner table, Black business owners are taking matters into their own hands and launching food brands on their own. Often inspired by their own lives, Black food entrepreneurs are enlivening the industry — thank goodness! Some of the most exciting snacks on the shelves are Black brands. And distributers and groceries are finally waking up.
So, the times they are a-changing — more than ever. Black food brands are launching at way faster rates, livening up your pantries with distinctive essentials.
Here are some of the best Black food brands out there right now:
Any dietary restrictions? For flavorful, delicious foods that satisfy whatever anyone’s craving. Partake makes everything from cookies, pancake mix, pizza crusts, and more. Plus, everything is vegan, gluten-free, and delicious.
Hawa Hassan, author of In Bibi's Kitchen started her business based on her experience as a refugee from Somalia. Missing home, she turned her passion for cooking with her mother into the brand which is now Basbaas Foods. She creates African-inspired sauces which transform any dish.
The West African grain fonio is the star of Yolélé’s products, making gluten free chips and snacks while supporting the farmers in West Africa. And if your snacks can go to a good cause, everyone wins.
Did you know that the internet’s favorite beauty & wellness company also makes delicious foodstuffs? True. Golde is powered by superfoods, alternatives, and supplements for those cozy home comforts. Their Shroom Shield is a great de-stressing substitute to hot cocoa. Their Ceremonial Grade Matcha will be the star of any morning ritual. And their Collagen Creamer adds a delicious — and beautifying — extra for your cup o’ joe.