Operation Help or Hush feeds Baltimore protestors

At the Southern Foodways Alliance, we often talk of using food as a lens through which to consider greater questions of identity, history, reconciliation, and justice. And we often are asked, “But why food?”

At first glance, to discuss foodways may seem trivial against the backdrop of such pressing issues as social inequality, natural disasters, and decades-long wars (to name a few).

Police stand guard outside Camden Yards as protesters gather for a rally to protest the death of Freddie Gray who died following an arrest in Baltimore, Maryland April 25, 2015. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
Photo courtesy of Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

We see it differently. The question of food has always been integral to these issues, though it’s not often front and center. Because human beings, whatever their conflicts and differences, must eat. And it’s our hope that, in eating, we are able to recognize this shared humanity and somehow start to bridge the great divides between us.

Today our hearts are heavy with the turmoil in Baltimore. Many of us have friends or family there. Many Baltimoreans trace their roots deeper into the South. Even those who struggle to conceive of Maryland as a “Southern” state still must pay attention to Baltimore–and to Cleveland, to Ferguson, to L.A., to New York. We must because we know, intimately, the excruciating toll our past has taken on our present—and on the present of our brothers and sisters farther north.

As we, as individuals, as an organization, and as a nation struggle to do the painful work of addressing the enduring systemic injustices that lead to these present crises, let’s remember that the lens of food also offers us a way to do something tangible and immediate. In the 1950s, Georgia Gilmore helped to sustain the participants of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by selling her food to raise funds for their meetings. Countless other volunteers devoted their time and energy to nourishing Civil Rights activists on the road.

Today, organizations like Operation Help or Hush continue to tend to the most basic needs of activists: they provide food and transitional lodging to those willing to put their lives on hold, and on the line, to demand justice. They also have harnessed the power of social media to organize volunteers and communicate distribution plans to protestors on the ground.

Read more about Operation Help or Hush here, and follow them on Twitter @ophelporhush.

And while you’re following Baltimore news coverage in the coming days, don’t forget that there is something you can do—and it has something to do with food.