On October 31, Dr. Ashanté Reese gave a lecture in the Cole Cinema entitled “‘There Ain’t Nothing in Deanwood’: Toward an Anthropology of Food Access and ‘Nothingness.’” Reese began studying anthropology in graduate school at American University, earning her PhD in public anthropology, which builds on other fields of anthropology to serve the public good, especially in terms of social issues and conversations surrounding them.
Experiences that inspired her to pursue further education in public anthropology occurred while Reese was teaching middle school at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta Georgia. Two of her students were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, often called adult-onset diabetes and associated with lifestyle and diet. In addition to this, when offering dinner to two students who had to stay late after school, she brought them to the grocery store near her house, and though the students lived less than five miles from her, they were uncomfortable in the environment as they had no grocery store as “nice” as hers .
In her book “Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C.” published earlier this year, Reese explores the food geography in Deanwood, a majority-Black neighborhood in Washington, D.C. with uniquely limited food access. However, instead of primarily focusing on what is lacking in terms of food access in Deanwood, Reese draws attention to the self-reliance of the community and “Quiet food refusals,” which she says “show everyday ways residents understand, frame, and navigate their local food system.”
She expands on the history of Deanwood as a self-reliant community, interviewing residents who spoke of the gardens their families had, Black-owned grocery stores, and hucksters that supplied residents with food. This history of self-reliance can be seen in modern Deanwood, but alternative food sources became less difficult to sustain as the move towards supermarkets as the main food source took place. Deanwood is located in a ward in D.C. which is one of the poorest and has the least number of supermarkets within it. Residents regularly complained about their local Safeway, dubbed the “Un-Safeway” for its poor quality and customer service. Corner stores are another source of food staples, but with high prices and limited options, they are not sustainable or viable for regular grocery shopping in Deanwood.
Working against this, a man Reese calls Mr. Jones operates a market that is different than other sources of food in Deanwood in that it is Black-owned and focused on healthy and fresh food options. In addition, residents still garden on their own, and worked to create a community garden to supply produce for themselves. This ties into the history of self-reliance, with residents striving to find a way around low food access. In her book, she states “Deanwood’s history suggests that even in the face of inequities, residents have consistently exhibited agency in their community building, food production, and consumption. Education, homeownership, and entrepreneurship were key components of resisting racism through self-reliance. Though they experienced racial exclusion elsewhere, early Deanwood residents invested their money, time, and talents in developing a community in which they felt safe and nourished by both the businesses and the social relationships.”
Reese finishes by saying that in writing her book she does not believe that she is the one to give solutions, though she believes that solutions are possible.