From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
A Conversation with Tunde Wey

A Conversation with Tunde Wey

Talking to the artist, writer, and cook about the meanings of money and food.

People assume I’ve interviewed Tunde Wey—the artist, writer, and cook whose work has been the subject of other people’s award-winning profiles—before because I’m a big public fan of his work, but I hadn’t felt myself properly prepared. His work touches on everything from racism to immigration to colonialism to capitalist extraction, and I didn’t really know my way into a focused interview. I was nervous, basically. But I think we had a good conversation, one that gets at a lot of issues with food as a lens toward bigger systems and problems.

In many cases—most cases, if I’m honest—I’m doing an interview in order to work out a problem I’ve been thinking about, and this one was no different. We waded into whether food can really be an agent of change in a capitalist world, because I’ve been wavering on that idea myself, and Wey has the economic knowledge to discuss why it isn’t so in depth. Listen above, or read below.

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

Tunde: Thank you. 

(:07) Alicia: And I know you are in Lagos, now. Can you tell us about how that's going, what you're doing there?

Tunde: Oh, I'm actually not in Lagos. [Laughs.] I was supposed to fly two weeks ago, and my COVID result didn’t come in time. So I just pushed for my flight till a couple of months from now. Next month or something.

Alicia: Ok, cool. 

Well, can you tell us about where you grew up and what you ate?

Tunde: Yeah.

I grew up in Lagos. I ate regional Western Nigerian food, I guess. So I'm Yoruba, so I ate Yoruba food. My mom is Edo, so I ate that food as well. My dad is also part Efik, so I ate that as well. So I'd Yoruba, Efik, and sort of the Delta region food, so Edo, Itsekiri food. And then we ate, I guess, white food too.

Alicia: Which white food? 

Tunde: When we were growing up, we used to call it breakfast things. But when I came here, then it was lunch meats and shit like that. So sausages and hams and stuff like that. So, we ate that. So it was a mix. 

We usually would eat that on Sundays. My dad would cook, and we'd go out to this store. My data would buy a whole bunch of things, and then he'll cook. Pasta. My mom would mix shit like beef stroganoff, just random shit. She went to school in England, so she came back with certain notions around food. So, we have those kinds of things. 

And growing up in Nigeria, I came from a middle-class background. It wasn't out of the norm for folks to eat that kind of stuff. So cereals and pancakes, stuff like that. Plus, we also watched a lot of American television with that kind of stuff on the TV.

Alicia: Right, right. Yeah. 

And you self-identify as an artist, a cook and a writer. And I wanted to ask, which were you first and how did the rest come? [Laughter.] 

Tunde: Which was up first? [Laughs.] 

Alicia: Yeah, yeah. Which identity? Or which came to you first, in terms of your work? 

Tunde: Right. 

I don't know how to answer that question. I feel like it just depends on who I'm, who I am talking to. I think I say I'm an artist because it's just easier to convey what I'm trying to do. I remember, I was trying to raise money for a restaurant. And I was telling people that this restaurant is not going to make any money. And they couldn't understand that. They were like, ‘Huh, what does this mean?’ But then if I was talking to, say, a curator, and I'm like, ‘Well, this project is this and I need this amount of money,’ then they get it. So it just depends on who I'm talking to. 

So I guess in the chronology of what is on public records? Artist came last, and it's probably still not on record. So, maybe that’s the first time.

Alicia: Well, it is difficult, I think, for multi-disciplinary people to use that word, to make themselves legible, I suppose, in a world where you have to make everything legible to obtain what you need to do your work at all. You have to be very, very strict about what you are. That is really funny that saying artist allowed you to get the capital for the projects that you needed, that you wanted to do. [Laughs.]

Tunde: Yeah, I have a friend who's a curator. She's a friend, but she's also a colleague. She's based in Pittsburgh, Chenoa, and she was the first person—I did a dinner in New Orleans, and she happened to be there ’cause she was there for the opening of some hotel or something. And she had read about it. She just came through. And then, that's how we became friends. But she saw it as art. And then she gave me sort of the words to be able to describe myself to myself and to other people. And then she sponsored the project as art. So I'm like, ‘All right, I fuck with this.’

Alicia: Right. 

And your work focuses on power, colonialism, capitalism, racism. You've written for food sections and food outlets. But lately, you've been self-publishing, I wanted to ask if that was a conscious decision to move out of traditional media, or whether this is something that—if you're just not finding the space in food media.

Tunde: Yeah. 

So I'm not sure how it is for you. But I never pitched anything, just because that's not—I didn't grow up. I mean, I wasn't a journalist or anything so I didn't understand pitching. And the way I got my writing gig with the Chronicle was through a relationship. All that to say is if I want to publish something, I don't know who to contact. And I also don't like rejection. 

And then also, I'm not necessarily interested—because this has happened a couple of times, when people will reach out to me and then I’ll propose something and they have a different idea of what I should do, which is fine. But I just tend to want to write what I want to write. So I think that the medium of posting on Instagram or using my newsletter just seems to make more sense. And I have been recently fortunate where I'm not reliant on my writing to bring in an income. So it's fine to just release it on Instagram.

I remember when I put it out, when I put out—when I started putting out my essays on Instagram, a friend told me, she was like, ‘This is very difficult to read.’ [Laughter.] I think it was this awkward, ‘I can't read your 75-post essay on food.’ And I was like, ‘All right, fuck it.’ And I kept doing it.

But I think there's something about, interesting about playing with the medium, at least, on the ‘Gram, which making the posts be these essays that nobody wants to read. 

Alicia: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Well, I mean, you've been written about a lot, interviewed a lot . People kind of set you up one way as sort of a provocateur in food. Do you feel that that gets your work right? It's funny to ask you this while interviewing you, but when you're—when people interview you and write about you, do you—How does that feel? Do you see yourself when someone actually is writing about you?

Tunde: I mean, I guess it depends on what was written or, you know? 

Yeah, I don't know. I think sometimes I step into—and I think you get this too—people writing about you, too, right?

Alicia: Not really. [Laughs.]

Tunde: Then you do more of the writing?

Alicia: I mean, I do want to understand this because it is—I have a book coming out and everything. And I know it's going to be a weird position to be in.

Tunde: Oh, right. To be quizzed. 

Alicia: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Tunde: Yeah.

I guess it just depends on who was writing and what they’re writing about. I think this is not because of anything that I've done but just just who I am, that when I read something about me, I'm interested. So I separate myself from whoever—from the person who's reading it, me, from the person who is being portrayed in whatever the piece. And I'm just looking at it interestingly. So if it's interesting, I'm interested. If it's not interesting, then I'm not interested. 

But then all these labels too, they all find it—they all find use for me in context. If somebody is calling me provacautour, depending on the context, that's true. Other times, that's not true. Depending on how I feel, too, that's true. So yeah, it's just all those things. 

How would you describe me to yourself?

Alicia: I think of you as a writer and an artist. And I don't think of you necessarily as a provocateur. I think of you as someone who bends the narrative in different ways than we are accustomed to seeing in food especially, which is a very, very boring cultural field. [Laughs.] It's a young cultural field, I suppose, in terms of cultural criticism. And so, I do think that anyone who says anything somewhat outside the norm of the narratives we get gets labeled an activist. A provocateur. 

Tunde: Yeah. 

I imagine that, depending on who is talking about your work, they are saying the same thing. So again, the context is everything. To a lot of folks, I am—people have told me this to my face—I'm not radical at all.

Alicia: Yeah, no, I feel that way, too. Just by doing anything for money, I am ultimately a bad person and not radical enough. And that's fine with me. I've really made peace with that. I think in the last year or so, it's like, ‘I'm sorry, I have to live.’ [Laughs.]

Tunde: Did you make more peace as you made more money? Is that how it happened? 

Alicia: Exactly. Yeah. [Laughter.] 

I was like, ‘You know what, there's no use for—I'm of better use to people this way. [Laughs.] I'm of better use to people when I'm not broke and worried and have to go work in a bar, or do whatever the fuck to to keep myself going. I'm a better writer when I don't have to worry about those things.’

Tunde: Yeah.

I think having resources, whether you want to call them money or whatever, that is pretty pertinent to survival. 

Alicia: Yeah. 

No, you can't do good work if you're not—if you're worried about survival, and so it is what it is.

Tunde: Some people don't worry about money, and so their resources are different. But most of us need it.

Alicia: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Well, I wanted to ask you about last year’s ‘Let It Die’ essay was a big hit. Was it the first time we wrote an essay on Instagram? Or maybe it was just it really took off. People were obsessed with it. 

Tunde: Right. I don't know if it was the first time. I don't remember. 

Oh, sorry. Was that a question?

Alicia: Yeah. Tell me about ‘Let It Die,’ yeah. [Laughs.]

unde: Oh. Yeah, well, I do want to correct one thing, but transgression is just part of how I see the media landscape, which is I don't know how much it took off until Helen Rosner wrote about it. I'm pretty sure it didn't take off until Helen Rosner wrote about it. [Laughs.] So yeah, so that was it. It just happens to be the essay that Helen Rosner decided to write about. Not to say that the essay is not strong. But to say that for it to get to a certain critical mass of people, it needs a lever, and the New Yorker was the lever.

Alicia: Right. 

And around that time, though, you did tell WBUR ‘What is important to us is not necessarily how it tastes. It's more about the theater around the thing.’ And I think this is what I was talking about when I was saying you've been bending narratives that we're not used to seeing. 

And that most people take things very literally, I think, ’cause I wrote something about the death of the chef and people were totally up in arms about, I want to put the guillotine on chefs or something. And it's like, ‘No, that's not the idea. The idea is like, ‘What does this idea mean to us? What does this narrative mean to us? How can we change that narrative so that we create different systems that are better for people?’ But food media at large, I think, is extremely literal in its thinking.

And so, I wanted to ask you what do you expect as a result of your work? Do you have an expectation around anything concrete, or do you have an expectation more around changing ideas and changing narratives?

Tunde: Yeah, so I think that I'm interested in really big things. To be very specific, I'm interested in changing the material conditions of people who are disenfranchised, specifically people in Nigeria, West Africa, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa. That is my interest. 

So, do I think writing is gonna do that? No. Do I even think that any of the work that I do affects the material conditions of folks in such a way as to change them permanently, or even temporarily? No. But then maybe people impacted by some of the work to think differently, to act differently on an individual scale, and depending on their sphere of influence, have that different action influence other people? I think, possibly. Yeah, that's what I think.

Alicia: Yeah.

No, and in your recent essay about returning to your home of Nigeria, you write, ‘All these convoluted numbers to say that Nigeria is fucked, and it is this ‘fuckedness’ that is termed underdevelopment.’ And I love this essay. It was such an immediate—it was just really good. The writing was really good. 

And so, there are so many types of food system futures that are discussed from the global north perspective. And I saw connections between this piece and your piece, ‘what is profit, and how is it made,’ where you wrote, ‘for capitalist food production to flourish it has to eliminate indigenous food production, and one important way this dismantling occurs is through displacement.’ 

And these are connected by the idea that Indigenous food production, the ‘underdeveloped country’ , requires change by colonialist entities by capitalist production, which we already know is unsustainable. And so much of what I get stuck on right now in my writing is that one of the only ways we've created concrete responses to these problems and to these structures developed by colonialism is that we have fair-trade food. And we have these other food projects working in the global south. You've worked with Burlap & Barrel. And it's kind of just a re-tinkering of the old systems where the capital is still concentrated somewhere else. It's just through these sort of really pined means that we are kind of trying to make more equity there. 

And so, you know, I guess I wanted to ask you what do you think of these kinds of food projects? What are the limits of working with them, and what are the possibilities of working with them?

Tunde: Yeah, wow. 

Yeah, I think the problem is big, obvious. Ok, the problem that I'm talking about, which is a racist problem, talking about Nigeria, which is kind of getting to West Africa and the continent as a whole, because Nigeria is the biggest country on the continent in terms of population size, and GDP. Fair trade doesn't solve that problem. By fair trade, I mean this—engaging in global capitalist trade, we're trying to do it with sort of fair, more ‘fair terms.’ That doesn't solve our problem. 

Yeah, that problem is historic. It’s contemporary. So I don't know, I know that that is its own problem. I know that. What solves the problem? I don't quite know yet. I'm still thinking about it. 

And I also know that there’s a solution. So it's not the end of my thoughts, and after it’s going to emerge. I think that whatever people are terming radical, whoever is talking about that, that sort of radical progress happens in stages. 

We're not going to end capitalism tomorrow, or in 10 years. At least, the people who I fuck with who think about this kind of stuff think about it in in terms of transitions and long periods of time and a continuum. I don't think of our economic system or capitalism as this system that holds everything that is bad. I think that what is true to all the different economic systems possible is—as humans, we are the constant. What is inherent in us is to a certain extent to be selfish and to—not selfish, but to have differences in wants and needs and perspectives.

Anyway, all that to say is we can move from a capitalist mode of production to, I don't know, socialist or communist, and we could still experience the same, or some of the same things that are happening with the degradation of the planet with exploitation and other things. So, fair trade is not the answer. That's what I’m saying. [Laughter.] 

Alicia: Yeah, no.

I was writing a piece about sugar, and I just had this moment of being like, ‘Everything—there is no way to fix this at all.’ I mean, there are ways to fix it, but it's so historically rotten at its core that it is—the whole world would have to change for our relationship to sugar to not be something completely extractive and completely—Just to take one thing, one foodstuff and look at it. The whole system would have to change for this to not be an absolutely terrible product for us to use every single day. When we think about equitable trade, it's just such a limited idea. 

Tunde: Well, just to be just to be specific, when we talk—I'm assuming that when we're talking about fair trade, we're talking about the stickers they put on products. Not talking about global trade, which is a completely different thing, which—that will change everything if it was actually fair trade between countries.

I'm reading this book, and the writer talks about—or at least so far has referenced this idea of comparative advantage, which, when I was in school, in primary school in Nigeria, so—or secondary school—I learned that comparative advantage is how you grow your economy. It’s you find out what you're really good at, and then you develop that and you sell it to other people and people buy them. Then you have this trade. 

But the way the global system is what happens to be what, say, Nigeria is good at is what Nigeria has been shaped to be good at to benefit the West. So Nigeria happens to be good at having mineral resources in the ground. Then it has a, an overdeveloped extractive sector to the detriment of everything else. 

So all of that to say is that real fair trade doesn't happen on a product by product basis.To your point about sugar, the whole ship needs to change.

Alicia: Change. Yeah, exactly. 

No, and as you mentioned before, your project is about getting resources to those who have historically lacked access to resources. And whether that's you charge white people more for food, or you price an issue of Sandwich that you get started at $100, or the salt that was $100. 

And I think about these things constantly. There's a literal law where Americans from the U.S. get, can pay 4% in their taxes. But Puerto Ricans aren't able to get that same break. And then now, there's this problem with the bitcoin people buying up all the property. The tourists have made where I live, Old San Juan, so unlivable that basically anyone who owns property is looking to sell it to the highest bidder, which is going to basically just mean displacement by bitcoin bros ‘cause they have the capital In cash to buy it. 

And I think, of course, in terms of food about everything. So I'm like, ‘All right, how if we-’ I think we just talked about this, but if you—if we saw those real changes on a fundamental global level, what would the food world look like? What would change in the way we have a relationship to food? 

Tunde: Yeah.

Full disclosure, I'm invested in Bitcoin. Not on that scale. 

Ok, so maybe I’ll say something controversial. I think that there's a difference between fault and responsibility. So we're all responsible, but—and responsibility has their degrees of responsibility. So I think as long as you're born and you participate in the system, you're responsible. But depending on your power and your sort of subjective position, that responsibility either grows or shrinks. But then there's sort of people at fault, but even that is a very complicated thing, too. 

So I feel it’s maybe a little disingenuous to complain about the effects of the economic system if you are actively participating in the economic system. And by that I mean that what—the sort of speculative nature of Bitcoin is the same, is not the exact same thing, but it's connected to, say, the continuous production of vehicles every year. Last year, Ford produced 1.5 million vehicles. Tesla produced 500, or manufactured 500,000 vehicles. That sort of investment in consumption goods, and the proliferation of credit and debt and all that shit. That shit is connected to Bitcoin. That shit is connected to the housing market soaring. That shit is connected to everything. 

So we can pick and choose. We can pick and choose if we want to, but the truth is that it's all connected. So, of course, that's what's gonna happen in certain communities, because that's what money does in this economic system. That is not to say that it's right, or it's going. I'm just saying that. 

And I feel if maybe a lot more people were talking about the, were actively trying in little ways and big ways to address the economic reality, in general, as opposed to specifically when it makes them uncomfortable, then things would be—I don't know about better, but things would maybe be different. 

I'm also just not very interested in the food system as a lens to experience transformation, just because it's connected to everything else. I don't necessarily think that it is the lever that could change things. I’m sure it’s one of the many levers, but I think that it's probably not the first lever, if that makes sense. Did that make sense or not? 

Alicia: That makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. [Laughs.]

Tunde: Just be more specific. I think that monetary policy, fiscal policy, reining in, say, the financial industry, financial services. That drives the economy. And addressing that probably has a greater impact than working on, working directly on food policy. But they're all connected.

Alicia: Well, do you feel that you're getting away from food as a lens then to look at the world and politics?

Tunde: No, I don't think so. 

Food is a lens to appreciate all the politics. I think that when you're talking about policy and changing things on a global scale—if you're talking about sugar, for example. Changing how sugar is produced is just a, maybe a really difficult way to change the system if the whole system needs to change. But focusing on, say, the global mechanics of fair trade is a better way to do that. But if you look at sugar production and consumption, then you see the global mechanics of trade, and these other aspects of the system that are kind of fucked up. But when it comes to actualizing change, I'm not sure that food is the place that we start from.

Alicia: No, that makes complete sense. Yeah. [Laughs.] We don't maybe acknowledge that enough. When I say we, I say food writers, that we're not enough engaged with all the other aspects of the world and the reasons these problems ultimately exist. It’s all about—Yeah, these small things that maybe allow you to see the bigger picture, but don't give you the tools to necessarily engage on a deep intellectual level with those issues. If that makes sense. [Laughs.]

Tunde: Yeah, that makes sense. 

Alicia: But well, actually, to get back to food, because you have—I know that you worked with the Beard Foundation. And then also on the Sandwich Magazine you worked with—I think, Sir Kensington's owns that, which is owned by Unilever. So you've worked with these big organizations that have a lot of kind of power. But you also have written that ‘And in all spaces, food and society, we see the faithful and continuous reproduction of this social control, which reinforces the idea that white domination is the natural order of things.’

Tunde: I’ve said some shit, huh?

Alicia: I'm sorry, I read, re-read everything you've written, obviously, to talk to you. I know, it's weird to have your stuff read back to you. 

What do you see the role of interacting with these kinds of—the Beard Foundation with, a magazine owned by a company, what is the purpose of this engagement? 

Tunde: I do want to shout out my partner Ruth on the magazine. 

So, I guess it just depends. So, what did I work with the Beard Foundation on? I don’t remember.

Alicia: Did you edit some pieces, I think, for the blog? I know Mayukh wrote a piece for you. 

Tunde: Yeah, I wrote a piece. Yes. I just wrote a piece about the work that I was doing. At the time, Mitchell was the VP. Yeah, he reached out and I wrote a piece. 

Yeah, it just depends. But if we're talking about money and capitalism. This is how I feel about money. Nobody owns money. That shit is for everybody. Like they say, money belongs to the game. I don't care. I don't have a problem taking money. I think there's certain monies that I wouldn't take, not because I think the money is ‘bad.’ It’s just that it’d make me look crazy. Yeah. And I don't want to look crazy. 

Money’s so not real. And it has such real consequences. And nobody owns it in my mind. It belongs to everybody, or it should. So I'll take money. All that to say, organizations and just the way our economy or the global system is structured is that capital accumulates in certain places. It accumulates in the states and accumulates in corporations and organizations and individuals. It is unevenly distributed. So I don't care who you are. If you're looking for some sort of sustenance, you're not printing dollars or mining gold by yourself. You have to go to the deposits where they are. And huge corporations—they have the money. The state has the money. By the state, I mean, the nation state’s structure. 

Sir Kensington, specifically, and Unilever, the kind of work that we were trying to do at the time, Ruth and I, was to talk about certain global systems. It was fantastic that it was Unilever, because Unilever is an antagonist in our story. And we had conversations with them about that. Ruth and I were interested in the possibility of extracting just something so small from them, something tiny relative to how much they've taken from Africa, from Nigeria, in particular for me. So to me, that made sense to work with them on that. 

So, yeah, it depends on the opportunity. But I think when we're talking about money and resources, the folks who have that money are the ones who are distributing that money. And so if you want it, whether you get it directly or indirectly from them, you're getting it from the same source. So, that’s how I think about that.

Alicia: No, it's a really useful way of thinking about things. [Laughs.] ’Cause I think if you're very online, and you're sort of on the left, all of this becomes a very, very personal responsibility issue rather than an issue of taking the money from who has it when you need it. And every move you make is sort of either an endorsement or a rejection of massive things, when actually it's really none of that. It's a useful way of thinking about things that I think isn't—it doesn't get enough attention, to talk about it in that way.

Tunde: Yeah.

There's obviously money that comes with caveats. And most money does, soif  the caveat sort of infringes on certain things for me, then I won’t take that money. But if it's relatively chill—for example, with the magazine, I think they told us that we couldn't specifically—we couldn't make the whole magazine about Unilever as an evil corporation. That would be a little too much, right? And then we're like, ‘Sure.’ It doesn't mean that we didn't critique what Unilever's stands for? Whatever. So there's that. 

But I think more about now, more about how—I just think about how I'm hoarding money, as opposed to where I'm getting money? So, if I get money, I think about like, ‘Okay, this money that I have now, what am I going to do with this money? How can I use money to further my mission?’ And then I think in that way, I think of my stewardship of resources as opposed to wondering about the optics, which is like, ‘How do I get it?’ Which is I do, but I'm less interested in the optics and more interested in how the money that I have can maybe do something different. But it's such a small number that—

Alicia: [Laughs.] That's extremely useful. Thank you for that. 

—film projects. 

Tunde: I'm sorry, I lost the first part of that question. 

Alicia: Are you working more in film now?

Tunde: Yeah. 

So my production partner and I, Ruth and I, we got a grant. And we're working on a docu—series on food, using food to explore the sort of larger questions. So yeah, that's sort of what we're doing. 

Alicia: That's exciting. Yeah. 

Tunde: And speaking of money, and—sorry, just one thing and the grant. We got money from a couple of foundations. So you have people who maybe take money from foundations, but then criticize how other people make their money off foundations. A lot of them are invested in the stock market. I don't care if you're invested in ESG or whatever. You're invested in a very speculative medium. And that sort of speculation, that sort of idle capital that is sitting in bank accounts, or what do you call them? In ledgers? That is money that is, or that is a system that is deeply exploitative. 

So, we don't get to pick and choose. I try not to, especially, even with money. And I just think about how the money that I have, again, to what I say, can be used differently. 

Alicia: Right. 

And for you, is cooking a political act? 

Tunde: Just at home, just chilling and cooking?

Alicia: Cooking in general. 

I ask this question to everyone. It's usually just a kind of a Rorschach test of what they think of the word ‘cooking’ and the word ‘political.’ [Laughs.]

Tunde: I don't know. I mean, if I'm just cooking by myself, no. If I'm doing a dinner series, or something, then possibly. I could be wrong, but I don't think of cooking—I think identity is political. So, sometimes just being is political. But all of this is contextual. Your identity in a particular place is political. But I don't think of cooking as an identity. I think of cooking as—yeah, it's an act. I don't think of necessarily actions as inherently political. Most things are contextual. I think it’s not everything. So, just depends on the context. 

Alicia: Yeah, yeah. 

Well, thank you so much for taking the time today. 

Tunde: Yeah, I have a question for you, actually.

Alicia: Ok. [Laughs.]

Do you want to ask me while we're recording, or–

Tunde: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alicia: Ok.

Tunde: So something that is just fascinating about—to me—about your work is, and I could be wrong, because I get your newsletter, but I don't read it every week. But I read enough to know that you talk about the same things. By that I mean, your perspective is the same, which is anti-capitalist. I want to say anti-racist, but I'm not sure how you describe yourself.

But you have this perspective. And you keep writing like every week, right? Every week you’re writing, every week. And just, how haven't you exhausted? No, really, I'm so serious, ’cause I feel I—when I wrote for the Chronicle, I wrote four essays. And I'm like, ‘The next four are going to be about the same thing. And the next eight after that.’ And so I'm just curious about how you keep the shit fresh.

Alicia: Right.

No, I mean, I think a lot of people would say I don't keep it fresh, that I have a shtick, that I’m just always saying, ‘Capitalism is bad. Climate change is bad. We have to stop climate change. We have to eat less meat,’ like that. I just bang the same drums over and over again, which is valid. I think I have a beat, so to speak, as a writer. These are the things I cover, is how our cultural relationships to food are part of these larger systems—of economy, policy, white supremacy, all a part of larger systems that control our everyday ways of being and thinking. And that is my beat. That is what I write about. 

But I do think, obviously, within that there is so much to write about. There is so much to think about. I don't know. I think during the more peak of the pandemic, I really exhausted everything that I had to say for years, but no one ever let me say as a food writer. And then I think now, I'm interacting more with the world again and finding more ways into the things I have always written about and thought about, but they're more rooted in my interactions with other people. 

I don't know. I've always been a compulsive writer. So it's not hard for me. This is the natural way in which I communicate. It's easier for me to write something down then it is to say it. Yeah, just to communicate in writing. That's my way of communicating. Yeah, I'm happy to talk to you, but I find it is—I'm going to feel tired after I do this, because I—it's a less natural way for me to communicate, you know?

Tunde: Yeah, no, I dig it. I think that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, if that's easier for you, then it makes sense that you do that. Because most people say the same thing, anyway, over and over again with their mouth. But you’re just writing it. 

Another thing that I want to tell you is I met a man through you. Mr. Byrne.

Alicia: Mark Byrne. 

Tunde: Yeah, from Good Vodka. I was in Lagos. So this is a super short story. We're filming for the docu series in Lagos in Kogi State, which is central Nigeria. And we had this really delicious local drink. I was blown away by it. And I just kept thinking, ‘Fuck, this is so delicious. I need to fucking bottle this and sell it or something.’

And then I was in Lagos a couple of—a month after.I had read the interview that you did with him. And then I'm like, ‘I need to call this man or email this man and see if he'll work with me.’ So I emailed him, and he agreed to work with me. So I don't know, sometime in some soon future we will be releasing a Nigerian palm spirit. 

Alicia: Oh, that's amazing!

Tunde: Yeah. It's not a commercially viable product. I guess it's a project about exploitation again. 

Alicia: Yeah. [Laughs.]

Well, Good Vodka is basically that as well. I mean, it's a product and it's a commercial product. But it's also more about how spirits exist and are made. The history of spirits is, it's usually made from waste rather than growing things to make spirits, which is a bad way of doing it. [Laughs.]

But that's amazing. I love that. I love talking about—and maybe when it comes out, we'll talk again, but I love talking about spirits. [Laughs.] I love talking about alcohol. Because I do think people have a really weird and complicated relationship to it, obviously. But it's nice to talk about it on a level of appreciation rather than the very, very American perspective on alcohol, which is wildly problematic. [Laughs.]

Tunde: I don't know much about spirits. I just know to the point, earlier point about seeing all the systems and everything, I just know that just a really small thing, the Indigenous production of alcohol at scale. That shit is happening. Folks in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria servicing half the country with this shit. And you're doing it from these small, small camps, all these different small camps by the water. And so just thinking about thinking about what that means, and thinking about how the disparities that exist between, say, African production and European production is what inspires me to do this kind of thing as opposed to like the actual food product or beverage product. So yeah, I’m excited about it. 

Alicia: That's awesome. Yeah. [Laughs.]

Well, thank you again, I'm so excited about that, and everything else. 

Tunde: Absolutely. Thank you.

Alicia: Thank you. 

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.