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In this book, Ashanté M. Reese makes clear the structural forces that determine food access in urban areas, highlighting Black residents’ navigation of and resistance to unequal food distribution systems. Linking these local food issues to the national problem of systemic racism, Reese examines the history of the majority-Black Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, Reese not only documents racism and residential segregation in the nation’s capital but also tracks the ways transnational food corporations have shaped food availability. By connecting community members’ stories to the larger issues of racism and gentrification, Reese shows there are hundreds of Deanwoods across the country. Reese’s geographies of self-reliance offer an alternative to models that depict Black residents as lacking agency, demonstrating how an ethnographically grounded study can locate and amplify nuances in how Black life unfolds within the context of unequal food access.

I’m an anthropologist and ethnographer by training, which for me means I spend a lot of time thinking about what the everyday (or what some might consider the unremarkable) teaches us about larger patterns and processes of inequity, survival, and resistance. In all my work, I am interested in questions and narratives about Black people, survival and care. And relatedly, in methodological questions concerning how we write/think/talk about Black people, survival, and care.

This has shown up in many ways: research and writings about diabetes and health disparities, religiosity and depression, and HIV/AIDS ministries at historically Black churches. Over the past decade, the majority of my time and efforts have been focused on food access research in Washington, D.C. and related advocacy work with Black farmers and Black food justice organizations. My first book, Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C., explores the structural forces that shape the location of supermarkets in D.C., which results in an unequal distribution of food. Using anti-Blackness and racial segregation as theoretical starting points, Black Food Geographies places Washington,D.C. within a larger context that demonstrates that unequal food distribution is a national phenomena. To move within, beyond, and in tandem with narratives of deprivation, Black Food Geographies also asks: who and what survives? The book highlights the various ways residents grapple with food access and, in some cases, create alternatives within a food system that fails them. My second book is a co-edited volume with Hanna Garth. Black Food Matters: Centering Black Ways of Knowing in the Wake of Food Justice (University of Minnesota Press, 2020). In this volume, we bring together a group of interdisciplinary scholars to critically examine the ways Black organizations and residents frame, understand, and address problems in the food system.

I am also interested in critically examining ethnography as method. I currently write an opinion column, Ethnography from Elsewhere, for Anthropology News. I use the column to reflect on previous ethnographic encounters and explore how we can do ethnography in a way that isn’t based in extraction and exploitation. I owe a lot of my thinking about ethnography to Black feminist thinkers and writers both within and outside of anthropology: Aimee Meredith Cox, Dana-Ain Davis, Bianca Williams, Savannah Shange, Erica Williams, Christen Smith, Johnetta B. Cole, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman, Katherine McKittrick, Jessmyn Ward, and so many others.

My work has been featured in Epicurious, Civil Eats, and Sapiens Magazine. It has also been profiled by the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) and Black Agenda Report.

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about archives and archival work, what an equitable food system would/could look like, and how best to work in community with others. Some of those thoughts may show up in posts on the Musings + Fieldnotes page. You can also follow my {random} thoughts in real time on Twitter.