It honors “the concept of breaking bread,” says Mark Shusterman of the Night Sweats, who was the cookbook’s taste tester and recipe editor. According to its creators, the compilation is meant to bring families and individuals joy through cooking and sharing meals, while also delving into the complex inequalities that plague the food system and highlighting those dedicated to making it better. All proceeds will be evenly distributed among the organizations profiled in the book.
Meet Me at the Table is based in hope, says Kari Nott, executive director of the Marigold Project. Nott says the cookbook was an idea that she and Shusterman were kicking around for a while, but it really took precedence during the past months of the pandemic. “[Food] is the area where he and I really entered into activism,” she says. “It made sense to us. Everybody eats.”
The collection presents complicated issues in a way that doesn't shame people about their lack of understanding, Nott explains. It’s a place to start learning.
And the learning starts simply for readers, with easy-to-follow recipes shared by well-known musicians including Adia Victoria, AJ Haynes (Seratones), Amythyst Kiah, Ben Jaffe (Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Big Freedia, Courtney Marie Andrews, Eric Slick (Dr. Dog), Fantastic Negrito, Gabriela Quintero, Grace Potter, Jack Johnson, John Prine, Jon Batiste, Kam Franklin (The Suffers), Lido Pimienta, Lucius, Matthew Vasquez (Delta Spirit), Nicole Atkins, Nikki Lane, Ruby Amanfu, Ryan Bingham, Tanya Trotter (The War and Treaty), Tarriona “Tank” Ball (Tank and the Bangas), Valerie June and Wes Schultz (The Lumineers).
The recipes are organized by type of dish — appetizers, entrees, desserts — alongside notes from the musicians detailing the recipe’s meaning or the intersection of food and music. One musician wrote a paragraph describing how he likes to make breakfast tacos, while others sent over more traditional recipes, and some explained the cooking process as “‘I like to start it in a pan with oil,” Shusterman says.
Interspersed among the recipes are profiles of nineteen organizations working to create greater equity across the food system, each as varied in their mission statements as the musicians themselves.
Some of the groups featured include the Agricultural Justice Program, which provides a Food Justice Certification (FJC) to ensure fair conditions for laborers, farmers, retail workers and others in the food supply chain; the Food Chain Workers’ Alliance, which, along with other organizations, filed a civil-rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July, alleging racial discrimination against meat-processing workers during the pandemic; Rural Advancement Foundation International, which, among other programs, helps farmers learn the nuances of applying for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) funds to help weather the effects of COVID-19; and the GrowHaus in Denver, which helps provide healthy food to residents living in food deserts in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.
Food deserts are an example of food inequity that has been particularly striking for Shusterman. Many music venues are located in food deserts, he says, and touring around the country with the Night Sweats often resulted in parking "in a neighborhood that just doesn’t have a grocery store, doesn’t have a healthy restaurant to eat at.” Noticing that stark contrast in neighborhoods from city to city is part of what motivated him to raise awareness about food inequity and continue the band’s mission to support racial, social and economic justice through the Marigold Project.
The private foundation, started by Rateliff in 2017, aims to financially support organizations and amplify the voices of activists who intimately understand the issues of their community. Meet Me at the Table furthers the foundation's work by including short-form essays by historic and present-day activists involved in various aspects of the food system.
Essays include the perspectives of activists such as Sean Sherman — known for his work at The Sioux Chef and North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (also a profiled organization) — who focuses on revitalizing the knowledge of indigenous foods systems in modern culinary contexts; Leah Penniman, co-founder, co-director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm, who advocates food sovereignty and the historical and continued exploitation of Black and brown labor; and Nano Riley, a journalist, environmental historian and adjunct professor at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.
Meet Me at the Table represents a coalition across movements, a “diverse array of regionality, styles of music [and] styles of organizations,” says Nott. And with such a presentation, the cookbook communicates that the omnipresent nature of systemic injustice can be met with an equally vast network of solutions. All readers are invited to join by sharing a meal. Order Meet Me at the Table for $40 (or $100 for a signed copy) at Nathaniel Rateliff's online store.