The intersections of food culture, African American perceptions of justice, and the psycho-sociology of human moral development

Throughout my personal and academic life, I have explored the social and psychological effects of slavery and other forms of oppression on African Americans. If admitted into a Ph.D. program for Fall of 2006, I would be interested in (but not limited to) exploring processes of moral development among African Americans and other ethnic minorities. Particularly of interest to me are relationships between perceptions of social justice and dietary beliefs. My initial inspiration to integrate food consumption studies into my interest in African American studies manifested from reactions to my dietary practice. Specifically, I was perplexed by the many negative responses from a majority of African Americans in the Boston area. Curiously, many were not able to understand how my resistance to all forms of sociological and ecological injustices is embedded in my dietary practices of veganism and purchasing Fair Trade[1] and certified Organic food. It is this intersection of food culture, African American perceptions of justice, and the psycho-sociology of human moral development that has drawn me to continue my graduate research at the doctoral level.

To explore processes of moral development and perceptions of social justice among African Americans, my designated emphasis in Sociology will be in inequality and identity.  I have recently started developing a praxis called Black Eco-Feminism, an intersection of black feminism[2], ecofeminism[3], queer theory, critical race theory, Ahimsa philosophy, Action Research, ethical eating theory[4], and White Privilege studies. Though much research has been conducted on patterns of eating among ethnic groups residing in the USA, the focus has primarily been on how food identifies someone with their ethnic culture[5]. I started exploring research paradigms such as Black Eco-Feminism to add a broader dimension to the intersections of critical race theory, social justice, and the socio-politics of food. My doctoral research will be concerned with a deeper analysis in which I would like to investigate how socio-political and moral beliefs manifest through food patterns. For example, Dick Gregory has piqued my academic interests in linking perceptions of equality to food patterns. He has advocated the need for Blacks to better understand Black health crisis and impediments to equality by analyzing their traditional Soul Food practices. It is interesting to me that he perceives the Black Soul Food diet as being diametrically opposed to the liberation of Blacks. In his perception of equality, when Blacks eat Soul Food they are literally consuming the racist morals and ideology of the slave-master. During slavery, Black slaves were given the worst foods, causing chronic health ailments and high rates of infant mortality. This slave food, in his opinion, has manifested into what is now called the Soul Food diet, hindering Blacks from understanding what true social justice is.[6] I am also interested in how food beliefs among African American females may embody internalized oppression.[7] A brief analysis of bell hooks[8] memoir, Bone Black, will portray such an example.

Raised in a heteropatriarchal household of the 1950s, hooks’ mother “whipped” her for being too skinny and for not eating enough. The punishment stemmed from a belief that Black men did not desire marriage with skinny women. With no desire to marry, hooks was still forced to eat to nourish her body for a future husband she would be expected to serve. In her household, female food consumption was linked to servitude to a husband. It is here I see a manifestation of internalized slave-master ideology within her mother’s perception of Black gender roles and food consumption.  During slavery, a majority of slaves in America were underfed unless they were about to be sold. In this case, many slaves were fed nourishing foods to relieve appearances of emaciation. Buyers did not want to see a slave that didn’t appear strong enough to endure labor. In hooks’ experience, she had eaten to nourish a body to be given away (“auctioned off”) and be married to (“purchased by”) a dominating Black husband (“slave-master”). Through her mother’s food beliefs, a conundrum in her mother’s perception of equality manifests: she frequently subjected hooks to the same injustices that her ancestors endured. Strangely, hooks notes that her mother was conscious of the necessity to liberate Blacks from White racism.  Her advocacy for the racial liberation of a Black collective while simultaneously practicing food beliefs that sustain heterosexism and predefined gender roles are fascinating. These are the types of paradoxes I wish to unlock.






[1] Fair Trade products support living wages and safe and healthy conditions for workers in the developing world.

[2] Traditionally, this is a type of feminism that integrates the lens of anti-racism and anti-poverty  from the perspective of Black females who were traditionally not included in mainstream feminism which was centered on White middle class female issues in which poverty and racism were rarely, if ever, addressed.

[3] A pluralistic, nonhierarchical, relationship-oriented philosophy that suggests how humans could reconceive themselves and their relationships to nature in nondominating ways as an alternative to patriarchal systems of domination.

[4] The manifestation of one’s socio-political and ecological sense of justice through a dietary practice that causes the least amount of ecological and social injustices. For example, purchasing equal exchange coffee instead of regular coffee because it directly supports anti-poverty among Third World coffee growers.

[5] DuPuis,Melanie. Eating Cultures: Race and Food. Part of UCHRI at UC Irvine.

[6] Gregory, Dick. Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature. New York: Perennial-Harper, 1974. 81.

[7] External oppression is the unjust exercise of authority and power by one group over another. It includes imposing one group's belief system, values and life ways over another group. External oppression becomes internalized oppression when we come to believe and act as if the oppressor's beliefs system, values, and life way is reality. (

[8] A black feminist social critic who is best known for her critique of, and strategy against systems of oppression.