By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator
Adrian Miller is a food writer, James Beard Award winner, attorney, and certified barbeque judge. He won a Snailblazer Award in 2021 for Best Food Storyteller. Through several books, Adrian has discussed everything from soul food to presidential food to BBQ. Adrian has also been part of the Slow Food community through active participation in the Slow Food Denver chapter, Slow Food Nations, and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.
One of Miller’s most popular books, Soul Food, depicts a soul food meal, each chapter representing a different part; it is a “love letter to African American cooks.” From Soul Food: “It never occurred to me that soul food needed a biographer until I stumbled across John Egerton’s 1993 book Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. In that book, Egerton penned the following: ‘The comprehensive history of black achievement in American cookery still waits to be written. From the frontier cabins to plantation houses to the White House, from steamboat galleys and Pullman kitchens to public barbecues and fish fries and private homes without number, black chefs and cooks and servants have elevated the art of American cookery and distinguished themselves in the process, and they and all other Americans need to see the story fully told.’ Those words instantly piqued my curiosity and inspired me to take a closer look at African American cuisine.” Learn more about Soul Food here.
We sat down with Adrian to discuss storytelling, the Slow Food movement, and what it will take to create just foodways.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does it mean to be a food storyteller to you?
“I think food connects people. It’s a way to find out the story of people when you follow the way food has changed over time. I’ve really been interested in African American food culture; it’s a story of migration, much of it forced. As someone who has been forcibly disconnected from Africa, how can I recoup my culture? I think food is one of the great ways to do that. Through storytelling you can introduce a culture to people who may not be familiar with it; in our fractured society there are fewer and fewer places of connection, and I think the table is one of the few we have left.”
What is your perception of Slow Food USA as an ingredient in the food justice movement?
“Slow Food USA is playing an important role in terms of connection; one thing that hampers the food justice movement is silos. We have people who are doing great things but they are often doing them on their own and not in collaboration. I think Slow Food is intentional about connecting different parts of the movement together and connecting people who may not cross paths in everyday life. I think that’s important; I believe we can do more together than we can do separately.”
What does good, clean and fair food for all mean to you?
“Good, clean and fair food for all means recognizing people’s dignity and humanity. Things have gotten off track with our food system, and the fact that we have people who are hungry in a world that is producing so much food is crazy. All of our efforts for food justice and making sure that people have access to food, just recognizes people. I am a person of faith so I love other people and that love expresses itself in so many ways; I think feeding someone, cooking for someone is an expression of love. At some point you are saying you for someone’s survival — even if the food is straight nasty — the act an expression of love. I think we are on this planet to care for others. A good, clean and fair food system treats people and living creatures with dignity. Thinking about nature and the earth’s bounty and balance; it would mean not over-harvesting, not depleting our soil, raising animals ethically, a fair and livable wage for everyone involved in the food system and consumers recognizing they should pay for that. I remember talking to a chef who runs a seafood restaurant in North Carolina. We were talking about food and how customers complain about the prices he’s charging, while using fair trade and ethically harvested fish. He said, ‘The question you should be asking is why is the food you are eating so cheap, not why is it so expensive?’ I think the final piece of the puzzle is people having access to this food. Anyone who is impoverished, living on the margins, should get good food as well. To me, the best system would recognize dignity all the way through — appreciating the food producer, the middle person getting it to food venues, and recognizing everyone involved in the system and ultimately the person who is eating this food.”
How do you think we can achieve good, clean and fair food as individuals and as a national and global movement?
“We need to roll up our sleeves because we have a lot facing us and we are a system that is not equitable. The main thing that has to happen is raising consciousness at the individual level going all the way up to the global level. We also need to get people to think — I can start to change the system with my choices, how I spend money, and what I advocate for public policy. We have a lot of laws that are outdated. I am so excited about the creativity around ugly foods and services that are emerging to get food that is perfectly fine to eat, though not so beautiful, to people. Changing that law could have a significant impact. We also need to educate people about food and hunger issues not only in our country and our neighborhoods but around the world. We face serious climate change issues; how do we feed people and get back to treating the earth with respect and living in nature in a balanced way. It’s going to take a major shift in attitude and lifestyle to what people are currently accustomed to – is there enough individual will and political will to do that? I don’t know. Are we prepared to change the way we live in order to bring about a just, clean, fair and good system? I think there are a lot of people who are ready for that and more people who would be poised to do that if they could be presented the information in a concise and persuasive way. I talk about this often in racial justice discussions but I think it’s going to take ‘social justice entrepreneurs’ to figure it out and change the discussion. I’m always amazed at how people are figuring out ways to disrupt the system and to bring about change in creative ways. That is what the movement calls for. I don’t think the movement should be located in just one organization or one person. I think to have true change we need to have multiple leaders and organizations working collaboratively.”
To learn more about Adrian and his books, visit his website.
All photos are courtesy of Adrian Miller.