ChopItUpATL: A Platform Honoring Cultural & Ancient Culinary Arts, While Providing Food Access To Atlanta-Based Communities
We are excited to continuously expand what started out as a primarily fashion and beauty platform into a space that also discusses food justice, land equity and advocacy in access for Black and indigenous communities. We were elated to chat with, Quianah Upton, founder of ChopItUpATL, who is curating discussions and providing information to elevate activation around food justice!
Check out this interview:
Explain your platform "Chop It Up ATL" - When did you start? Why? And ... what's the goal/intent behind the work?
ChopItUpATL was founded in 2016 as a way to display the creative aesthetic of Arbitrary Living. Arbitrary Living is my retail business founded in 2014 where I collect vintage and handmade housewares. I wanted to use dinners and events as a platform to display products and gather people around the table to have dialogue about things that are important to me in the world. We’ve put together beautiful dinners and brunches that double as discussion spaces for social justice, feminism, food access and what role art and culture plays. Right now I spend a lot of time and effort thinking of creating spaces for food justice organizations, growers and artists, particularly ones from marginalized communities, to have a platform. To gain supporters and new audiences for their stories and creations.
What is the food scene in Atlanta? How would you describe the access and affordability issue in Black communities?
Atlanta has a big food scene and some restaurant groups, chefs and organizations are aware of some of the benefits of using local food. Of course it’s not enough because the local farmers are still getting the short end and black communities and black farmers aren’t anyone’s priority but our own.
Atlanta has an issue with access to land and property for black communities. A picture: We build a thriving community 50-60 years ago, it slowly gets disinvested and we get redlined. Then years later someone turns around and literally develops on top of you while blaming you for not putting anything into your own community as they siphon money out of our communities through their businesses, back into their suburbs or families.
These kind of trends affect the long term health and wellness of our community. I have literally had a white chef I worked with in the recent past tell me that gentrification is a good thing. This comment was made after I worked with her and of course I never continued that relationship. Ideologies and mindsets such as this are what sets the stage for white urban farmer land grabs in “the hood” and certainly gentrification. The food justice organizations I know that are truly working to make changes in the city are educating about the fact that it is less expensive in the long term to eat fresh and healthy. All the while going up against big businesses that have the access to land and big fast food chains that are killing us.
What does food justice look like for you?
Freedom from white supremacy’s idea of our value. Black people deserve to eat as well and as healthy as our white, privileged counterparts. We fed everyone and still do. Our food preparation and cultural expression through the culinary arts is well known. Although we are the originators and masters of agriculture, we are largely excluded from access to good and healthy fresh food in our actual neighborhoods and communities. I am passionate about us getting back outside, getting into nature and getting in touch with our spirit and what our bodies need. I know from personal experience, that lack of access to healthy food and disconnection from nature can encourage mental health disorders and addiction through self-medication. Plenty of people around the world have self medicated into addiction. Addiction can manifest in many ways and our communities are particularly vulnerable. Going back to our roots in that way heals our spirits.
In your experience with creating conversations around food ... what do you see as the biggest challenge creating these healthy conversations within the Black community?
It’s interesting to me how closely our heritage is tied to agriculture, beyond slavery. Even in the midst of slavery and post slavery, the beautiful and brave ways which we were able to produce and grow crops should be honored. I think calling history up and pulling up the remembrance of our past is a barrier that I experience when I listen to community members. There’s a lot of trauma there. But we have love though and we’re going to make it.
Does you being Black ... a Black Woman play a role in your work? If so how?
Absolutely. It’s an innate genetic knowing. A feeling of being called to listen, create space for stories, honor cultural and ancient culinary arts. That’s really what it’s about. It’s not about me telling the story. Nor is it about me teaching as I’m always learning from community. It’s about creating the space for the story that already exists to be amplified. Giving space and opportunity to bring heritage to the forefront so that we can nourish ourselves with truth and give credit where it’s due. Not to mention returning the coins to where it belongs in the community and cultures who originated so many foodways. That is the Africa in me that calls me to do that. Liberation of history and food for all marginalized people.
What is one healthy living tip that you want to share?
I would say take the time to listen to your body. Ask your body what it needs and what it wants. Many times if I’m feeling down or anxious, I’ll pray and go within. Then not realizing it, I’ll randomly encounter a green or an herb at a farm site like Grow Where You Are or Urban Sprouts Farms. Or spirit will lead me to a tonic at Sevananda that I need for my mental health. Tap into the inner source which is inside of you that we are feeding every day and re-creating every day with the choices in nourishment that we’re making.
What are you goals for the future?
Well the future is here. Life has a way of leading you to your purpose and not letting you skip any steps! Five years ago when I started Arbitrary Living I never knew that I would go on to use food as a way to bring people together with #ChopItUpATL through a love for the concept of home and the art of storytelling. This year the goal is to continue to create beautiful and engaging gatherings around food, art and culture. However, we are more committed than ever to ensure they reflect what we will do when we have our own physical space. I think this year we will be able to explore art installations more as well as recipe development. We are putting all our energy and coins into a physical hybrid space that offers healing through art and food. A physical space speaks to our ability to manifest from energy into the physical world. That birth. It’s really important for #ChopItUpATL to address social issues but remain rooted in exploring creation and art. It is what has healed my spirit time and time again.