Cooking is Resistance
On food, war, and feminist organizing
Zoë from Feminist Food Journal here, with this month’s Letter from the Editors. Each month, Isabela and I will be taking turns writing about the food- and gender-related topics that are on our minds, through personal essays, resource round-ups, interviews, and more. For this month’s letter, I made a podcast of my conversation with three feminist activists behind a virtual cooking class in support of Feminist Workshop (a Ukrainian NGO), where we discussed food, war, and feminist organizing.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, I was already thinking about war and the role that women and food play in times of conflict. We had begun planning the launch of our call for papers for our second issue, WAR. Although I knew full well that wars are being waged around the world and that colonial expansion and civil unrest are lived realities of so many people in so many different places, suddenly this war brought these realities closer to home. Living in Germany, just one country removed from the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, the war quickly and unsurprisingly, became all anyone could talk about.
I remember walking to the Ubahn (or subway) station in those early days of the war and passing a small anti-war gathering and a group of women singing, their voices ringing out over the square. The fierceness that tinged their wavering voices brought me to tears as I stopped to join the small crowd that had gathered in solidarity. As I stood and listened, I — like so many others — had the strong urge to act, to do something to help these neighbours whose lives had been thrown into senseless violence at the whim of an imperialist aggressor. But just as soon as this thought crossed my mind, I couldn’t help but challenge myself — why was I allowing this war to dominate my imagination? What more could I — should I — also be doing to support the victims of the wars in Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and so many other places.
As I left the gathering and descended the escalator into the Ubahn station, I received a text from a friend offering a list of things we could do to support people in Ukraine and the Ukrainian government in their resistance. On it were links to donate directly to the Ukrainian army. It made me feel uncomfortable. On the one hand, I would consider myself anti-war, a believer in non-violence. As a feminist, I associate military force with patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, etc. On the other hand, I realize the necessity of violence as a part of resistance in circumstances of aggression, such as those in Ukraine. And it was people in Ukraine calling for this kind of support; who am I to be sitting on my high horse in my warm, comfortable, and safe home more than a thousand kilometres from the violence? Is it possible to stay true to non-violent values while also offering support and solidarity for resistance movements in war zones? How can you support resistance without taking part in the glorification of the militarization of society?
Amid all of this, I was thinking about women and food: Reading about the women in Ukraine supporting the war effort by making borscht and Molotov cocktails. Reading that, like all wars, this one’s impacts are highly gendered, that many trans and non-binary people were struggling to cross the borders into safety. Learning just how dependent our food system — including those parts of the system intended to support the poorest and hungriest people, most of whom are women — is on Ukrainian wheat and Russian oil and natural gas.
When I scrolled past the beautiful flyer for Cooking Up Resistance in my LinkedIn feed, I knew I’d found what I had been looking for. Cooking Up Resistance was a virtual collective Ukrainian home cooking class and discussion with queer and feminist Ukrainian activists. It was organized to raise money for Feminist Workshop, a grassroots organization based in Lviv, led by young girls, women, LGBTQI, and internally displaced people. During the war, Feminist Workshop has been providing temporary housing; coordinating transportation and evacuations, and providing psychological support for activists.
Reading through the Statement of Solidarity and Call for Action linked in the Cooking Up Resistance post, I was impressed by the lucid and unapologetic description of the imperial invasion of Ukraine. It acknowledged the need for solidarity not only for Ukraine but for the so many millions of people around the world whose lives are impacted by war, imperialism, and occupation. I was grateful amidst the flurry of conflicting information coming at me from all channels, for the clear list of “what you can do”.
The event was organized by a group of friends and feminist activists, Marion, Nino, and Fenya. The idea for Cooking Up Resistance emerged, perhaps unsurprisingly, over dinner. It all started during a meal shared at Nino’s house in Barcelona, between the three organizers, Nino’s partner, sister, and brother-in-law, Denys, who is Ukrainian and was the chef teaching us to make borscht at Cooking Up Resistance.
Food itself and the cooking class were important as a structure around which these activists built a space for others to share and for the rest of us to listen to and learn from them. Food and feeding are an embodiment of care. And as Saidiya Hartman, American writer and cultural historian says, care is the antidote to violence. Cooking Up Resistance demonstrated to me the power of food in times of conflict, not only in the sense of feeding troops but also for those of us on the outside, looking in, trying to understand unimaginable violence and grappling with a sense of powerlessness to stop it. As this conversation with the organizers of the event revealed, food has an important role to play in almost all dimensions of war, from protests against violence and oppression to survival after conflict and the reclamation of identity following colonization.
After listening, be sure to…
Check the list of feminist, LGBTQI, disability justice groups in Ukraine and donate to them directly;
Read the Solidarity Statement and Call for Action; and
Follow Sonaksha Iyengar, who did the beautiful graphics for Cooking Up Resistance.