In Table for two, Foronda uses recipe cards as postcards to catalogue and archive her daily experiences of and thoughts on the politics and possibilities surrounding food. Each handwritten recipe card was posted from her home in Glasgow to the curator’s home in Tkaronto over the course of 33 days.
A young Black woman navigates her identity as a settler on Turtle Island, first as a federal government official and later as the curator of They Forgot That We Were Seeds, a 2020 exhibition at the Carleton University Art Gallery bringing together eight Black and Indigenous women around the theme of food.
The first time I try caribou, I’m at a national engagement session organized by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in downtown Ottawa. I’m sitting at a table with government officials and the moderator has just corrected one of us for taking up too much space in the discussion. She tells us that us colonizers (said in Inuktitut) must stay quiet in these moments. I look around the table, at colleagues from various federal departments seated beside me and clustered together at two or three other tables, then across the room at the Inuit who had flown in from all four regions of Inuit Nunangat for the gathering. We are two Black women representing the federal government, and, yet, for the first time, lines have been drawn and I’m on the side of the oppressor.
Later, standing at the outskirts of the hall, I watch as the meat is parsed out; there is an energy in the room that had not been there earlier and the feeling of being an intruder hits me all at once – a subtle sensation of discomfort that wraps onto itself, into an intricate knot that settles deeper and deeper in my chest with every passing moment. An Inuk woman catches my eye and heads in my direction. Standing in front of me, she leans forward to whisper, with a slight hint of a mischievous tone: “It’s best if you try it with the soy sauce.” I smile shyly and walk over to the table with her.
The second time I try caribou, I’m in Nain, Nunatsiavut for a policy hackathon organized by a private foundation. I had flown into the community on a small plane, face pressed against the window as I watched the landscape morph and change. When I step off the aircraft and onto the tarmac, I smell the ocean for the first time: a fresh, crisp smell that feels foreign to me but hangs in the air wherever I go there. On my way to the hotel the first night, a woman approaches me and asks to touch my hair. I’m used to white people asking this, but I’m not sure what to say to an Inuk woman. She stretches her hand out and grabs hold of a braid and I smile.
They take us on a trip to the community freezer. There’s a list of names of all those who’ve had to use it, followed by their employment status. I leaf through the pages and notice a shift from caribou to other wild foods like moose. In her explanation of how the freezers are used, the tour guide briefly mentions the moratorium on hunting caribou that has been in place since 2007, and the impact on a community that had traditionally relied on it as a food source.
Later, we find out that the foundation organizing the hackathon had flown in caribou from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut all the way to Nunatsiavut as a thank you to the community for hosting us. Because of regulations around country food, the package had travelled miles across the country before finally ending up in the community. Flyers abound around town, announcing a community feast; they’re tacked on to utility poles and on announcement boards in front of the school and stores.
The night of the feast, I’m seated at a table with government officials and the other hackathon attendees. Tables and chairs have been set up throughout the community hall and I watch as children weave expertly between them, their laughter ringing throughout the space and mingling with the sound of the multiple conversations unfolding all around me. I dip a piece of bannock in the caribou stew that one of the community members had handed me and savour the warmth of the dish even as I feel that same aching sensation tie itself into an even tighter knot in my chest.
The third time I try caribou, I’ve already decided to take all these unanswered questions, this sensation that sinks deeper in my body with each passing day and to put them into an exhibition, to use art to probe this tear in who I thought I was and where I thought I stood and help unravel it even further.
It’s my first time meeting Katherine, a young Inuk woman and one of the artists in the exhibition – my first as a curator rather than an artist. She greets me at the door with her infant son hanging from her hip. As I’m taking off my shoes, she tells me that her mother has some tuktu (frozen caribou) and offers to share it with me.
Something in my chest expands as we discuss the exhibition, the slab of caribou and cardboard between us and her infant son watching us with big dark eyes from his high chair.
She sets out a piece of cardboard on the dining table and slowly unwraps a cloth-covered parcel, revealing a large chunk of frozen meat, red undertones glistening behind frost. She leaves for a moment, retreating to the kitchen, and comes back with a small bowl and a bottle of soy sauce. She leaves again and remerges with a small, curved blade with a wooden handle – an ulu, she later tells me. I watch as she glides the surface of the ulu along the caribou in sharp, steady movements. The thin slices of red meat glisten on the brown cardboard, the ice on its surface slowly melting and leaving dark puddles behind. I take a slice between my fingers and, knowing now what to do, dip it in the soy sauce. The meat seems to melt in my mouth and I savour the now familiar flavour of copper and umami.
Something in my chest expands as we discuss the exhibition, the slab of caribou and cardboard between us and her infant son watching us with big dark eyes from his high chair. She teaches me how to use the ulu, and, as my hands learn the same movements I had been watching earlier, I ask her for a photo.
The fourth time I try caribou I’m meeting with an Algonquin caterer whom I had initially reached out to about catering an upcoming event for the exhibition. Though unable to cater the event, she agrees when I later ask if she would be willing to teach me how to forage wild plants. We settle on a payment for the excursion and knowledge exchange and set a date and time to meet the following week.
Explaining that her mother will be the one taking me foraging and is running a bit behind, she gives me a tour of the house and, when that is over, asks if I’m hungry. When I acquiesce, we head over to the kitchen and she sets out to make a sandwich before remembering the leftover caribou stew she has in her fridge. With the bread still in the toaster, she heads to the cupboard and pulls out two bowls and puts the stew in the microwave to warm.
When all is ready, we sit down and eat the stew together, talking throughout about the experiences that had brought us to this moment: her journey to starting her catering business and my journey to curating this exhibition. Suddenly, I’m taken back to Nain and the comforting taste of bannock dipped in stew and the smell of the ocean, but this time there is a sense of communion, of relationality that I had not experienced before.
When all is ready, we sit down and eat the stew together, talking throughout about the experiences that had brought us to this moment: her journey to starting her catering business and my journey to curating this exhibition.
At the end, I gift her with tobacco and leave with more gifts than I can count.
The last time I have caribou, I’m at ‘A Harvest More Plentiful,’ the community dinner I organized with the Carleton University Art Gallery as part of the public programming for the exhibition. We’ve hired a First Nations as well as an Inuk caterer, and my mom and I have cooked some Nigerian dishes. We’re close to fourteen Black and Indigenous women and two-spirit people gathered for the event; I know many of them, but many others I’m meeting for the first time. I’m comforted to have my mother there with me, to share in the moment. In the years since arriving in the country in 1998, this is her first time sharing space with Indigenous women and two-spirit folks in this way.
The table is laden with food – two different recipes of bannock, as well as puff-puff, the Nigerian version of fried bread. A caribou mac and cheese is placed beside my mom’s yam porridge, and on the other side of the table, the rich smell of seal broth is heady and comforting.
At the table, we share bottles of sorrel – a hibiscus drink often offered as a show of hospitality in West Africa and the Caribbean. I look around at the table at those gathered around me, and, as I indulge in the sound of conversation and laughter, feel the weight that had wrapped itself around my heart since the beginning of this particular journey start to loosen. This, I know, is only the beginning.
Tamil Archive Project
Amidst the 2020 global pandemic how does one maintain care, community, and rituals? Eight collective members called in on zoom to have dinner together. You may see into our private spaces, recognize familiar gestures, long for the foods we eat, and read some of the anxieties that sit with us. You will not hear the sound of our voices filled with affection nor the conversations we had on that Sunday evening.
is a Tamil-Canadian high school student who adores slam poetry, making people happy, and how those two things intertwine. She works to understand the power of the ability to communicate and how to harness its intricacies.
Yasmeen Nematt Alla
is an Egyptian-Canadian visual storyteller whose practice approaches immigration and refugee narratives from an interpreter’s perspective. She considers how art making can bridge the gap between what we know and what we hope to understand. Entranced by the power of text and its ability to dialogue with the onlooker, she creates sentences that act as portraits for herself and those who share similar circumstances through sculptural, interactive and performative gestures.
is an undergraduate university student studying art history and philosophy. As a queer, mixed race individual, they are interested in false notions of binary in identity and deconstructing the impact of colonialism on academia/art.
lives in downtown Toronto and is into language, stories, and the suburbs. She thinks food can be a way to understand all three.
is a writer, artist and digital strategist with a passion for storytelling. Drawing inspiration from her Bengali roots, she uses concepts of memory, nostalgia, and archives in her practice. Her stories explore intergenerational trauma and mental health in migrant communities.
is a Punjabi-Canadian researcher and community organizer. Her work explores the relationship between alcohol and Sikhi, critiquing the constructs of culture, gender, and religion.
is a queer, bi-racial artist who responds to issues surrounding body politics, and further challenges preconceived notions regarding, sexuality, racial ambiguity and censorship. Her practice is interdisciplinary and spans performance, video, drawing, printmaking, and artist multiples.
works at the intersection of research, education, and visual culture with a focus on the effects of colonialism. She started Tamil Archive Project collective in 2016 and is part of the archival team that documents racialized artists and their work for current and future generations.
Maria Isabel Martinez
In the face of a raging storm, we feed each other to feed ourselves.
Sharing a meal is ritual: the altar is set and we make offerings up to each other. We offer each other libations in exchange for communion — here, an olive; here, my questions. Connection is always an offering placed on the table. When I feed you, I feed myself; I eat the food prepared, and I indulge in the nourishment of your company. Food, which is both necessary to our bodies and pleasurable to our senses, is a generous tool for sustaining physical and inner selves. There is a mutuality to a meal by way of feeding each other. We meet each other’s need for sustenance, and then our needs to be witnessed and heard. This is caregiving, a dance we may have learned long ago, which we intuitively perform when the right people appear. Caregiving blurs the edges between self and other, and reveals what can exist when the gap between one and another, you and I, is filled.
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced us into quarantine, we came to understand sharing space as a threat. The airborne nature of the virus makes it so that we are afraid to be near each other; we are isolated from strangers, and also from loved ones. The solution, of course, has been video calls for all, but I worry about where the ritual of sharing goes, and how separation seduces us with its ignorance. In such moments when lives are threatened, our survival instincts are unearthed and we enter a state of separateness, or rather, individualism. In this state, caregiving demands more than usual from us, because it asks that we put aside our ambitions, our own propensities for surviving and thriving, in service of others’ well-being.
This individualism, we know, is a symptom of a capitalist illness, and it is exacerbated by the current health crisis. In Emergent Strategy, author, facilitator and pleasure activist, adrienne maree brown writes:
The pandemic, combined with uprisings in support of Black lives around the world, has set something in motion. Mutual aid projects are not only emerging, but flourishing in order to supplement access to essentials, like food, for vulnerable communities. I see how people respond to calls for aid, break free of a trance, and make offerings to each other. Borrowing a definition from Big Door Brigade, "Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.” To participate in mutual aid is to participate in the act of caregiving. It says, I may not be able to feed you at my table, but may you take these seeds and harvest your own garden. It is deliberate empathy at work, the extension of oneself in service of another. A granola bar, a clementine, or a bottle of water at a protest is a moment of care in service of a future. It is world-building in the face of collapse.
This newer world, or newer way of existing, roots itself in interdependence, of which brown writes, “The idea of interdependence is that we can meet each other’s needs in a variety of ways, that we can truly lean on others and they can lean on us.” Yet, part of this leaning requires honesty about those needs. Mutual aid funds cannot be organized without first establishing what the aid will look like. Giving and receiving require deep vulnerability. I will not get fed unless I tell you I am hungry.
This pleasure is doubled by the company of someone else, like when I check to see if my friend is sensing the same smoothness of a cream filling as I am. Does anything ever taste the same when we’re alone?
I believe we long to be received by others. Do you see my sorrow? Do you share my joy?
A friend tells me about a friend of hers who enjoys watching her eat on camera during their video calls. She says, “I think it might be [in] part because she knows about my history with food (sometimes fraught) but I think it might also be because we just like to watch each other be.” Here, witnessing is care. I see you care for yourself, and I burgeon this care by admiring your efforts. It is a dance that goes in circles, and it orients itself towards tomorrow.