From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
A Conversation with Krystal Mack

A Conversation with Krystal Mack

Talking with the interdisciplinary artist and 'Palate Palette' editor about hyper-specificity and locality in her work on Black foodways in Baltimore.

I had this conversation with interdisciplinary artist, writer, recipe developer, and Palate Palette editor Krystal Mack in the middle of May, and it’s been influencing everything I’ve thought about ever since. Mack is hyper-local, hyper-specific, and dazzlingly smart. Her Patreon features wonderful recipes and essays, and while her approach would be considered counterintuitive in mainstream food media, to me, it makes absolute sense.

We talked about how her work came to be, the power in being deeply rooted in her city of Baltimore, allowing other people to tell their stories in their own language, and more. Listen above, or read below.

Alicia: Hi, Krystal. Thank you so much for taking the time today. 

Krystal: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me. You can hear me well?

Alicia: Yeah.

Krystal: Ok, good.

Alicia: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?

Krystal: Yeah, I grew up here in Baltimore, Maryland. And more specifically, I grew up splitting my time between the Northwood neighborhood of Baltimore City and Loch Raven, and also in the suburbs in Essex, Maryland. 

And I would say that those two places heavily influenced what I ate growing up. My mom was also a teacher who was a single mom, but also in school getting her master’s. So it was kind of a lot of latchkey kid situations. So, a lot of processed food, for better or for worse. Lunchables were my best friend growing up. I loved Stouffer’s mac and cheese. 

When I was in Northwood area, Northwood, Loch Raven, I was spending time with my cousins and my grandmother. And that was a lot of home-cooked meals then. So chicken and dumplings, or fried okra, things of that nature. So I kind of got a mix of those two things. I feel it's a true Black Great Migration story kind of situation going on with my palate, especially from the Mid-Atlantic region. Soul food from the south, but then also Stouffer's.

Alicia: The Stouffer's mac and cheese is good.

Krystal: It is good! It is.

My mother, though, she really tried to pass that off as hers for a little bit. I remember at one point she was dating some guys. And I remember every time she was like, ‘We're gonna make dinner!’ And they would always think that that was her mac and cheese. Like, ‘Why are you lying to these men?’ [Laughter.] 

But yeah, no. Very delicious.

Alicia: Very delicious. 

So much of what you do is specific to Baltimore. And I read an interview you did in 2019, where you talked about using interdisciplinary art as a way of understanding the city and the changes it's gone through. Now that so much of your work is online and accessible to people outside of your city, outside of that framework that you have, how—Have you changed your approach at all? How are you maintaining the very specific Baltimore nature of your work while you're now working for so many, a much broader and bigger audience geographically?

And I wanted to ask this, because I really love regional specificity. I think that we lose so much of it in the national media. And I think that we get to the truth when we are hyper-specific about locations. And being specific doesn't mean being esoteric. 

But anyhow, how do you maintain that in your work?

Krystal: I feel like maintaining that is kind of an act of maintaining my identity in a way. So for me, it just feels like it's something that I actively do every day. I get up. I have coffee. I have breakfast. And then I actively engage with my neighborhood, just to kind of have a sense of understanding of who I am and where I come from. 

And it is harder. I would say it's actually harder now, more so because of the changes that are happening in Baltimore. Well, fortunately, unfortunately, I've always had to kind of create and share my work online, because there really isn't a space for me that I feel fully fits my work. I mean, I'm not in a restaurant anymore. I don't own a bakery anymore. I don't do any of those things. Like you said, it is very interdisciplinary. 

And for me, I feel like my work is more of a lived practice. I know that sounds cheesy and hippie-dippie. But for me, it's never like, ‘Ok, the angle is to get this item on the shelf, or the angle is to be in this magazine, or have this established space.’ For me, the angle is to better understand, to better understand who I am in this moment, where I am in this world. And the tools that I use every day, how are they—specifically food—are they influenced by my surroundings, influenced by what's going on, influenced by my emotions? 

All of that, for me, especially as I mentioned in the need for visual, I’m a neurodivergent person. I feel like I view the world in a way that is not commonly explored. I guess one of my traits is being a little bit more vulnerable than the average person would be. And I feel like while that to some can be seen as a weakness, to me it's seen as a strength. 

And being able to have these open conversations about what's happening in Baltimore, and how that is very much intertwined with the fate of what's happening in cities like Baltimore, like St. Louis, in Detroit and the like. These once very industrial cities that are heavily populated by Black people, oftentimes Black people who came there because of the Great Migration. What does that—the foodways of those areas look like? And how do they connect with how we identify in a national sense as Black Americans? 

So that's always been something that's fascinating to me. And having been put into this position where I guess through my connections or relationship to women in food in the, white women in food specifically in the food industry, being able to have these conversations in a way that, I don't know, kind of hold folks accountable. [Laughs.] These are not just things that are happening off in cities that you have no connection to. They're happening in Brooklyn, too. It’s just people are refusing to acknowledge the role that they play. 

So for me, it feels now that I have great power, but with this attention, with great power comes great responsibility. With this attention. I feel like it's my responsibility as a Black person that's not in a major market to have these conversations for myself, for my city, and for other people whose lives in—I guess as a place intersects with those things, if that makes sense.

Alicia: That makes sense. [Laughter.] 

You bring that hyper specificity to ingredients as well. You use local ingredients. I've gone through so many of your recipes in your Patreon. I'm like, ‘Wow, I love this use of things that are not going to be available everywhere.’ I don't think that that kind of specificity is alienating. And I do think that sometimes we have these conversations that kind of assume that that is alienating to people. 

But you really just bring that into the fore of your work, that you are in a specific place, and you use specific ingredients. And so I wanted to know about how you ended up using food as a medium and how the locality of those foods has become important to you.

Krystal: Yeah.

I think for me, it actually all started years ago when I had this frozen dessert business called KarmaPop, which was frozen popsicles based on Mid-Atlantic seasonality. So I was using okra in desserts, and frozen desserts like an okra granita kind of, with coconut milk and mucus from the okra kind of giving it that creamier texture. 

Just really trying to show the ways that food in this region doesn't have to be presented in one specific way, and if we tap into our imagination, the possibilities are endless. So working with urban farms here, working with Black-owned farms here. Using those ingredients in those unique ways, it kind of shows the imagination and the range, but also we're not tied to this specific image. If I were to say okra to someone, they would, as I mentioned before, instantly go to fried okra or oh, some type of soul-food-style dish.

But to me, it feels we know that it's so much more than that. It's not just this, reduced to this one thing. I feel oftentimes how Black foodways are reduced in this country. It's very much like, ‘Oh, fried chicken, soul food. Period. That's it.’ There's no complexity there, when the reality of it is so complex. 

That was the thing that drew me to food, the ability to use that as a storytelling medium. And I was loving doing that with something that was very, I guess, childlike and somewhat pedestrian, like a popsicle. It shows that you can use very regular everyday ingredients, but kind of have your own fun, unique twist on it. And the story, the end product itself, can tell the story of how you arrived there. 

So I guess that's how it came to be for me. Just kind of finding a way to show the diversity and range of Black food items, or foods that are popular in Black food culture, and then wanting to expand on that by telling the story. 

Alicia: I read also that you talk about food as medicine, and that you've done herbal medicine coursework. What got you interested in that, and how does it influence your kind of recipe creation work?

Krystal: Well, for me, I think I got into that just because the whole goal of my practice is for me to kind of heal from living in this society and just living in the world that we live in. Like I said, I never wanted to create things to kind of have this angle of putting it into a museum. And I think that's why people really struggled for a long time when I started self-identifying as an artist. They were like, ‘We can't put this in a museum. And also, this is something that people do every day. So why is this art?’

So, that made me kind of transition to calling myself more of an interdisciplinary creative. Because the act of healing is artful. It's very artful. And I don't think that it should be just

kind of—I don't think it should be something that lives in silence. I think public healing is important. 

And I think that that was one of the reasons when I started creating, I guess, activations and spaces and things of that nature. Programs, public programs. I really wanted folks to show that you can heal but you don't have to heal in isolation. You can heal collectively. We can heal collectively. We can use food as an item to heal ourselves collectively, making active choices with what we want to eat. And understanding that if we don't have the access to certain things, what are the steps that we need to take or what are the steps that we can take as a community collectively to feed each other, to ensure that our community has access and ownership over the type of food we should be eating. 

So I think that, for me, it—the act of healing in itself was one of the things that kind of drove me to exploring herbal medicine. It was like, ‘Ok, we can continue to make work that is more of a figurative expression of the ‘act of healing,’ or I can actually double down on that and have it be something that is actually physically healing my body.’ 

And I think that's how I came to kind of growing in the work, through this dinner series that I had called Clearing the Field. And it was about healing the intergenerational trauma in my family, but using specific ingredients that I knew had healing properties. So specific types of green—types of greens and herbs, activated charcoal, all that other stuff incorporating that into the dinner, along with poetry and some personal narratives around the specific courses. And just showing how it's a journey on the path to healing, and how it can be something that is really transformative, painful, but also nourishing at the same time. 

Alicia: Right.

And when I dove kind of deep into your work, and the—all the stuff that you've done over the last decade and built and all of this. And whether it was KarmaPop, or it is Studio IAO, and now you're publishing on Patreon and you're putting out palatePALETTE, what—How has working independently, why has that been your path?

Krystal: Eww. [Laughter.] It’s physical. 

I actually don't always want to work independently. Ok, well, I’ll get a little vulnerable for a second, which I don't mind being.

I would say over—which, by the way, I want to say these questions were very good questions. And answering them myself this weekend, writing them out. And I was like, ‘Damn.’ [Laughs.] These are really good questions that people have never asked me. So, thank you.

Alicia: Thank you. 

Krystal: It's easier for me, unfortunately. As I said, I'm an autistic person. It's not something that's new to me. I was diagnosed at a time where—my mother had to fight to get me diagnosed as autistic, because autism is only really for white boys. She had to fight to keep me in school. She had to fight to get me accommodations in school to graduate. And also understanding my social—it is very exhausting for me to be social. 

There are things about my autism that I see as a superpower. And I feel it really allows me—Again, I feel the work that I do is because of my autism and allows me to see the human connection to food in a way that I don't think is fully talked about. But it also is hard to work with people who are living in a neurotypical world, where being able bodied is the norm. 

And especially, it's difficult for me because I don't really present as a disabled person, I don't present in the way that autistic people show up in the world. So I tend to struggle with having a conversation with people about my identity as an autistic person, as a neurodivergent person. And it is important to me that I do have that with collaborators. 

So I can't casually collaborate in that way. If I do collaborate, it’s usually after a moment of fully sitting with this person or spending a lot of time with this person. And then disclosing, I guess, to some folks who are in the neurodivergent community, it could come off as me masking. 

And in essence, I guess I am. I have been masking for over 20 years, just because it's already hard enough as a Black woman to survive in this industry, or to survive in this world. And to have another element added to my identity publicly, where people aren't even fully understanding of what autism means and they think it's something that needs to be cured. And they think it's something that needs to be fixed. People barely understand my experience as a Black woman. They are not going to understand my experience as a neurodivergent Black woman. 

So for me, when I do collaborate with folks—even for example, palatePALETTE. It’s usually in a more of a ‘I control this.’ Like, ‘Ok, you want to work with me? Cool. This is what we're gonna do. Would you like to submit something?’ Which I feel for my work and the way that it's shifting lately has been really helpful. I've been doing a lot more zines, a lot more digital prints, or digital publications. And I get to control that element. Now also, that does mean that because I am in complete control, if something goes wrong, it does fall back on me. [Laughs.] But I'm learning to deal with that. 

But I will say with my most recent project,  palatePALETTE, with Homie House Press, I did disclose to them like, ‘Hey, I'm autistic. And these are the things that I need. It's gonna be really hard for me to communicate with you without a visual. I have trouble with auditory processing, so I need to see you. I need to know where your face is looking. Also sorry if I don't look at you in the eye. There’s a lot of things. If I seem really overly passionate about one specific aspect of this project, please let me have that moment.’ [Laughs.]

Yeah, it's just a lot of things that I don't fully feel comfortable working with folks on without having to fully disclose how I show up in the world with that. I think it's a little bit of me, but I think it's also mostly, just like I said before, the world that we live in.

Alicia: Yeah.

No, absolutely. And that makes sense. And I mean, it means that you having ownership of your work means it is an expression of you. And I mean, I know from my own experiences even having—when you work with other people, there's a compromise and vision that is not always ok. 

I've had more success working by myself than I have trying to get things through in a more traditional way. And it's a struggle to come, to work independently and have all the pressure be on you and have all the work be on you. But at the same time, the reward ends up being so much bigger, because—not because it's all for you. It's not an ego thing. It just means that you got out what you meant to say.

Krystal: No, exactly.

I mean, I feel that way about palatePALETTE. Like you said, it is very much focused on Baltimore. And it is for me a love letter to my city, and how my relationship to this city has influenced so much in my relationship to food. And I really didn't want anyone else kind of coming in and telling me about how my relationship should present to the world. It was really about like, ‘This is what it is. No, it's not L.A. It’s not Brooklyn. No, these poems are not formal poems. If a poet came through, they would rip it to shreds. Cool. This is all real authentic emotions from a person who is just living, reasoning, existing within and doesn't have any formal accreditation to do so.’

That was important to me. And I think that that was one of the reasons this was a successful collaboration. I'm really proud.

Alicia: Yeah.

And on the website for palatePALETTE, you kind of explain your motivation to self-publish by saying that you've seen much food media that was PR and social media influencer driven. And that's why you wanted to create something new and fresh and hyper specific to your city and your experience. 

So, what is the food media that you do enjoy? What are you looking for when you look for stuff about food?

Krystal: Yeah, I guess I'm looking for hyper local stuff, too. I love to see that. I love to see how someone's relationship to a place has informed their relationship to food.

I'm looking for people I don't know. I’m so tired of seeing people I know. Even when it's people that I love, I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But it's also like, I also follow 10 other girls that do this. And I all know them, and a lot of people don't know them. And maybe I'm really good at doing research, but I feel as though I—if I was able to find this person who lives in Portland, Oregon, doing very Black stuff, how was it that y'all were not able to find ‘em? And you have a whole institution behind you. You know what I mean? You have all these resources. 

And I don't think it's just the journalists, I think they do sometimes do their research. And then they present it, and the editor is like, ‘No. No one's gonna read this, and no one knows who this person is.’ I think it was really me being like, ‘If I'm tired of the way that people are writing about Baltimore, specifically folks like Bon App-’

I think the people at Bon App, the ones that are still there and the ones who were there but left, I think they mean well but I also feel they don't fully understand the harm that they perpetuate in markets like mine. And it's upsetting. And it's frustrating. And I get tired of—like I said, my city is changing so much. And it's changed into a point where I don't even recognize it anymore. 

The diner that I used to go to before the pandemic has closed down and has been bought by some DC person, and they're going to turn it into this new fancy diner, but also a play on the diviness of it. It just feels like that's happening everywhere in Baltimore. The gay neighborhood that I pretty much, essentially, grew up in the 20s, all the gay bars have been turned into condos, or CVS’s. It’s just so upsetting. [Laughs.]

It's so upsetting. I walked into the CVS, and I was like, ‘I had my first dirty martini here in this CVS. And I was writing about that the other day, and just thinking about it. And I was like, ‘Damn, so much has changed.’ And I wish that the things that aren't celebrated are not—I wish the things that were celebrated were things like basic working class foodways, which we could also dive deeper into and just explore how capitalism has gotten us to this point. 

And I think that while I'm not necessarily in love with the food anymore that I grew up on, I think—And I can send you a copy of this. Do you have a copy of palatePALETTE?

Alicia: I will order it, don't worry. [Laughter.]

Krystal: In the issue, it is called, nostalgia is the Greek word, or kind of the Greek word for home and pain. Those are the root words of nostalgia. And the whole point of the poem is at the end, I want to celebrate the ways that we have survived even if they're not the prettiest, even if they're not what is trending right now. 

That was the whole point of palatePALETTE in itself, talking about chicken boxes and how, yes, this is something that is very much heavily a part of Black American culture. But how has this tool also been used to oppress us? If we were doing a very basic baseline argument about fried chicken and saying like, ‘This is culturally appropriate food,’ why it is not a food sovereign item? Then people would be like, ‘Oh, Black people love fried chicken. So why are they complaining? We're just giving them what they want.’ 

And I think that for me, creating that type of work and having those type of conversations, it was really important. Because I knew that no one else was going to have that. I know that my experience in Baltimore is not the same as the experience of someone who was living in—a Black person living in Chinatown in New York. But oftentimes in food media, that is how the experience is completed. 

Or even let alone Harlem. That's not my lived experience. If anything, a lot of folks in Harlem, at least the new Harlem, they look down on places like Baltimore. You know what I mean? Even though there's so much of our fate that's tied. That's a whole ‘nother conversation, Black capitalism and whatever. But these are all things that show the importance of representative space in a city like Baltimore, that is not just another—Blackness is not a monolith. And we're not all experiencing the same thing. We experience very different things everyday. 

So yeah, I'm sorry if I stumbled over the question.

Alicia: No, that was great. 

It's interesting, because I hope that they changed their approach to doing travel stories now at Bon Appétit, because they published a whole package on San Juan post Hurricane Maria. In one of the write-ups of a place, they called—they thought that this guy on a pernileria was Karl Marx. But it was Betances, who was an important person fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico in the 1800s. But they published that it was Karl Marx. 

It's really a missed opportunity when they are so lazy and think that they understand things before they ask questions. I come from working in traditional media, and I come from internalizing its norms about how to approach things. And so I've been undoing that in my own perspectives. And so much of the answer to not doing a bad job is just listening and asking questions. It's such a simple solution, is just read and listen and ask questions and not be embarrassed to not know things. These are very simple things we can do to do a better job. [Laughs.]

Krystal: That's the key part, like you said. Not being embarrassed to not have the answer? That's not common. 

I don't know, I feel like once you get to that point. And maybe this is me just making an assumption, but I feel once you get to that point of being at a Condé Nast journalist, you're like, ‘I have the answer. I'm in this place. This place is validating the fact that I am the expert.’ 

I don't have hope for Bon App personally. I really don't. I just feel all there is to the change of staff. And just because your staff has more people of color, you act that's something that's only white people want. Everybody can move from a place, have a very huge ego and look from a place where they know—I don’t know. [Laughter.]

Alicia: Well, I was excited to see, even though I don't have a copy of it yet—the mail is slow, too. So I'm always like, ‘It's gonna take forever to get to me anyway.’ That you have non-English language in palatePALETTE. 

And I have been saying this. I used to write about literature, which has a very small, but a very significant—

Krystal: Oh, no. What you said is happening is happening.

Alicia: Oh, can you hear me now?

Krystal: Yes, I can hear you now. Ok, I'm so sorry. 

Alicia: No, that's okay.

But I was gonna say that I come from literature and literary criticism. And there is such a strong, though very small, tradition there of translation. 

And not seeing that in food media has always been really perplexing to me. If I read art magazines, and even if they're not the most perfect art magazines, they do make an effort to be international in their scope and to have dispatches from different cities from people seeing the shows there. And I'm like, ‘Wow, this is—there's a real understanding of the need for that international conversation, which will build international solidarity.’ 

So I guess I just realized why there is no translation in food media. It has so much money and so much tied up in maintaining the status quo that of course, they wouldn't want real conversations between working people around the world. 

And so for you, why was it important for you to have translation in the zine?

Krystal: Because it's not my story to pick apart and tell. 

It's so commonly the thing where I just know to expect it. I just want to pick pieces out. Obviously it's radio, but NPR, I think they do a good job sometimes. But even still, at times, I find that they fall short when they have foreign language reporting what I—when I hear it, I'm like, ‘Oh, what else is she saying?’ I know that's not really what they just translated. I want to know more. 

So for this publication, I had two women who were part of a collective here in Baltimore called Mera Kitchen Collective. And it's a women's cooking collective, and they—well, they’re a business. They work with refugees and immigrants who have come to Baltimore, some through the IRC and some through a visa lottery. And they get to share their cuisine and make money and earn a living doing what they love doing, which is cooking. 

And I wanted to share their stories. Because in Baltimore a lot, that—they are often used as a heartwarming story, right? Even the Baltimore Sun, City Paper, when they were operating. Everybody was just like, ‘Immigrant. Women. Business. Boom. This is it. This is the story. Let's do it. And it was just like, ‘There's so much more happening here. And y'all are really just focusing on all of the little target points. I want to know who this person is.’

And I feel like with chef Iman, who was, is a chef from Syria, and also with Chef Émilienne, and, who was a chef from Burkina Faso, I wanted to focus on how they got here, how they didn’t even want to be here in the first place. And how they got here, and what life has been like for them here? And is this the community that they expected to find? Do they think about their lives before they came back here, or came here? I just want to connect with them.

How are they feeling about being here in the midst of not only this pandemic, but all of this uprising that's happening around social justice and race right now? How are you processing that as a refugee, as an immigrant person? Coming here and thinking America is all of this, that, all the propaganda that we put out into the world of this being the place to be. How does it feel to be here and be like, ‘Damn, they got some shit, too.’ You know what I mean? So that was really what we were talking about in the conversations. 

And also, I really wanted them to have their words in their own dialect. So thankfully, I'm in a space where I'm near Hopkins. So we have tons of translators, and I could work with folks on getting things translated in their specific dialect. Because to me, that is important. I hate when I see—even with Black folks. I hate when I see Black folks interviewed, especially folks from the deep south, and it's changed around or is published in a way that's kind of cute. Cute little Southern accent that’s cute. That just adds to them being more of a character, as—and it takes away from them being an actual human being. 

So for me, I really wanted it to be true to the dialect and their own words. I wanted them to be able to read this. They don't speak English well. They don't read English well, these women. So I want them to see what I wrote about them, or what our conversation consisted of. I want them to see their words on paper, and then be able to share that with their family and friends. 

Because it's not just about me. These stories are important, and they should not lose an aspect of their livelihood because they get translated to English, which I feel like they do. It's who is telling the story. English—speaking person is sharing this person's story with no consideration of the fact that they can't even read it. 

So to me, it was really important that that happened.

Alicia: Yeah. 

No, I love that because, like you said, the immigrant story in food in the U.S. is used as just a tool of nationalism, basically. There's never a lot of honesty about it like you're saying about  why are people coming here? What is that experience really like? It's not just always the feel-good story. It's a story of also loss and everything. And it's really interesting—it's not interesting. It's predictable that it's always like, ‘Look at this immigrant woman-owned café changing the world.’ We have to have more conversations about everything. 

It’s just really exhausting. And I'm so happy to hear that you're present—you're talking about it in that way, as it's just such a—it's such a story that is told in the most whitewashed possible way all the time. 

And for you, is cooking a political act?

Krystal: It never started out being that. But now that I have a better understanding of my political presence, I guess, in the world as a person, yeah, it is. Absolutely. 

I think cooking is a political act. But I definitely also—I do still order out. [Laughter.] I do occasionally buy a processed food item, like a frozen-food item that's like, ‘Damn, why am I doing this?’ 

Yeah, I think it is important to learn to teach ourselves to trust our tastes, our own taste. Also, be curious about other people's tastes. And maybe not let that influence us too much, like, ‘What is popular right now?’ But I think curiosity is important. Curiosity being tied to cooking is definitely important. 

We shouldn't just be out here—I mean, we should be cooking to live and survive. But I think we should also be curious about where our food is coming from and where these flavors are coming from that are trending now, and like why they’re trending. What does that say about us as a country and consumers? All that is important. 

I'm definitely not an Alicia Kennedy right now. You be hitting it, girl. When I was listening to you, I was like, ‘Oh! This is so cool.’ I think that you always come with the real. And I think it's really great that you are having these conversations that people are just now opening themselves up to. I think a lot of us if you're—

I mean, I was having conversations. I remember at one point my ex—not my ex, I’m lost at this point. My boyfriend, my partner. My boyfriend, when he was in the military, they had a Burger King on the base. So he has this very special place in his heart for Burger King, and he still eats Burger King. And I’m like, ‘Bleh.’ 

I remember he came home one day, and he was like, ‘Don't be mad, but I got you a whopper.’ And I was like, ‘Why would you get me a Whopper?’ He was like, ‘This is an Impossible Whopper, and I want you to taste it. And I was like, ‘Oh, ok.’ And we just had this huge conversation about processed meat and meat alternatives. And it was just making me think like, Is anybody else having these conversations?’ And then to see a couple months later, you having these conversations. And then also, I think, Food and Wine did a story. Yeah. So I was just like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’

And also to know that that's something that you've been exploring for a while now, though. I think it just kind of goes back to showing—I think we're in a shift now. I hope we're in a shift now of having conversations like this and not putting them off to the side as like, ‘Obviously, you’re like food justice, right?’ 

That happened to me one time. I was in Cherry Bombe Magazine, and somebody was like, ‘Oh, are you in the food justice section?’ And I was like, ‘No, they’re just gonna sort my bakery, why am I in the food justice section? Because I'm Black?’ Just this whole idea of the things that you are allowed to talk about as a Black person and as a person of color. 

And I think it's interesting how it can be very exhausting as a Black person in food where you are constantly positioned to be having the ‘woke’ conversations, right? And shit, I just want to make pie. Can I just make a pie? Why are y’all pressing me about all this race shit? I don’t have to tell you more, and you still want me to tell you about all the stuff that’s wrong with my society so you can be like, ‘Yes,’ but then not do anything about it? So what do you want from me? 

So I think that I'm happy that we are having these conversations about food being a political—or cooking being a political act. And I think that it's good that they're becoming more mainstream and not just kind of, like I said, being pushed off to the side of being social justice warrior. Yes, it's for everyone to have. We should all be having these conversations.

Alicia: Yes. People call me an activist sometimes, and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ [Laughs.]

Krystal: Oh my god. I hate that.

Alicia: You can’t talk about any of this stuff without people saying that you're an activist, or—and it's like, ‘No, there are real activists and I am not one!’ [Laughs.] 

Krystal: Krystal Mack, activist? I was like, ‘What about real-life people? Can you tell me 

specifically? ‘Cause I don’t think I am.’

That's saying if we walk into a room, and I see a pile of dirt on the floor, and I'm like, ‘There's some dirt.’ And it’s like, ‘Krystal Mack is a cleaner.’ I just pointed out some dirt. I mean, we’ll all clean it up. That doesn’t mean we’re cleaners. It just means that we’re being responsible human beings and cleaning it up. 

To me, I think that that is a way for them. It's more for them. It's more they're hitting all their bases, because the real activists are having conversations that hold them accountable. And they don't want to do that. 

Anyway, sorry. 

Alicia: [Laughs.] No, I love it. That's the greatest analogy I've heard ever about that.

Krystal: It’s so stupid. It’s so dumb. You can change almost anything. 

It’s like me walking into a zoo and being like, ‘That's a bunch of animals.’ All of a sudden, I'm a zookeeper? It doesn’t make any sense.

Alicia: No, no. 

Well, thank you so much for your time today. This has been wonderful. [Laughs.]

Krystal: I'm already a subscriber. I've been for a while. How do I go back and adjust to become a member? Or do I have to sign up twice? Because I tried to do it and I was like, ‘Why would I have to sign up twice?’

Alicia: Honestly, I don't know how to do it. I think I can send you a link to your, what would be your page for your account. And then you can do stuff there. But I'm gonna forward you this interview anyway when it comes out next month, so don't worry about it. [Laughs.]

Krystal: Ok. 

And how many interviews—It seems like you do a lot of interviews a month. 

Alicia: Every week, once a week. And so at this point, I've done 50-something for it. Yeah. So it comes out every week. [Laughs.]

Krystal: Well, cool. 

Well, thank you for reaching out to me. I'm a very big fan of yours. I think you’re a great writer. I'm still a baby budding writer trying to get to that point. 

But no, you're amazing. 

Alicia: Oh, thank you. Thank you. [Laughs.]

Krystal: Glad to be a part of this, so thanks.

From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
Conversations on food and culture, hosted by writer Alicia Kennedy, with guests such as Nigella Lawson, Bryant Terry, Melissa Clark, and many others. Read Alicia's newsletter on similar topics, which has over 17.5K subscribers and has been mentioned by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, GQ, and many other publications.