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Food, Community and Activism: Julia Turshen's Feed The Resistance

Food, Community and Activism: Julia Turshen's Feed The Resistance

In late September, I heard about a new cookbook with an intriguing concept. It wasn't your average run-of-the-mill cookbook, but one that could inspire and had a call to action. In the current political and social landscape. a piece of work like this is a much needed breathe of fresh air. 

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Written by food writer and cookbook author Julia Turshen, "Feed the Resistance" is the result of Julia's own self reflection about how she could define her own concept of activism. In the book's introduction, Julia acknowledges the privilege she has a "white, able-bodied, cisgender, educated, and financially secure person in America" and how she has the ability to choose when, where, or how to be active in her community, if at all. However, she credits the current administration as encouraging folks such as herself from being "sometimes activists" to becoming wholeheartedly committed to the resistance. 

On Thursday, October 26, FoodLab Detroit hosted Julia for a part discussion, part book signing event. Held at Good Cakes and Bakes (if you’re in the Detroit area, you NEED to check them out), it was a warm, intimate setting marked by the oh-so-tempting smells of cakes, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, and banana nut and lemon blueberry bread loaves. I tell you, that was my first time at GCB, and I was tempted to buy one of everythang up in there! (I did end up buying two cupcakes.)

 April Anderson (left), Devita Davison (center), Julia Turshen (right)

April Anderson (left), Devita Davison (center), Julia Turshen (right)

Using Food as a Tool

FoodLab's Executive Director Devita Davison kicked off a moderated discussion between Julia and GCB owner April Anderson around how the two women decided to put their talents and skills to use for a greater purpose. For April, it was launching a business that has developed a relationship with and is widely loved by the surrounding community, and being a part of the revitalization in Detroit. For Julia, it was channeling her frustrations about the 2016 election, and using her skills as a writer and passion for food to create “Feed the Resistance.”

“The best thing that food and books can do is bring people together,” Julia said.

April shared her story about how she started Good Cakes and Bakes. She recalled how she and her wife applied for a grant through the Motor City Match program (which connects new and expanding businesses in Detroit with funding and resources) literally a minute before the application was due. April wasn’t expecting to win, but to her surprise, she in fact did win. Now, she and Michelle were tasked with opening a bakery - for the first time - within 6 weeks. April admitted that the process of opening the bakery was very stressful, but acknowledged that she has a great support system. April and her team have also developed a strong relationship with the community, which regularly checks in on them and were even protective of Good Cakes and Bakes when a competing bakery opened nearby.

At Good Cake and Bakes, it is more than a bakery. It is a community space where events can be hosted and customers even have their UPS and FedEx packages delivered there.

“My connection is to the city of Detroit because this is where I was born and raised,” April said. “I feel like everyone should have the opportunity to have access to healthy, fresh homemade food that is not downtown. We want people here to know how much we love and appreciate them. If your community doesn’t buy into what you’re doing, then you’re not going to survive. “

For Julia, “Feed the Resistance” was about connecting the dots between food and activism.      

“Food is this unbelievably humanizing thing,” she said.

The average timeline for a cookbook to be developed and published is 2 years, but Julia turned that process on its head and completed the book within 7 months. To do so, she cut down on the elements of a traditional cookbook, like glossy photographs. She reached out to friends and asked them to contribute recipes to the book. At 143 pages, the book is compact and the proceeds will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“I felt a sense of urgency with this book,” Julia explained. “I wanted this book to reach as many people as it could. Whenever you want to do something big and daunting, as long as you have the why, that’s what you can sail on. I really believed in this book and believed in the why.”

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A Sweet Celebration

Following the panel, as Julia signed copies of the book, attendees indulged in one of the book’s sweet treats - spiced brown sugar pound cake with rum molasses glaze. Re-created by April, the recipe was contributed by Jocelyn Delk Adams of Grandbaby Cakes. In the book, Jocelyn describes pound cake as “the type of therapy that restores you and prepares you for the battles of resistance. In my family, we make pound cakes for celebrations…”

This gathering was certainly a celebration.

Devita summed up the evening perfectly: “This cookbook is instructive. For people sitting at home and on the sidelines, and wondering, ‘how am I going to get involved?’ ‘how can I make a difference?’ Now is the time. I hope this book inspires folks.”

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