Organizing community for food justice in the Bronx.
In April 2019, Food Tank published its list of 14 African American Women Leading Change in the U.S Food System. Tanya Fields was among the many thought leaders featured. The Bronx-based food justice activist and educator is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Black Feminist Project (formerly BLK Projek), close to ten years in operation this year. Through the nonprofit, Fields explores food injustice issues and economic development as it affects Black women and children.
Food inaccessibility in New York City’s South Bronx neighborhood was the catalyst for Fields launching a mobile produce bus. She established Libertad Urban Farm to spark the conversation around the absence of healthy food and the lack of food education available and accessible to low-income residents and women of color in the surrounding communities. “The farm looks beautiful and I am really proud of the fruit trees we have, but the space is not just about growing food,” she says. “Green space is important, but it is also a communal space. A little pocket of utopia in an area that has to exist in spite of many of the circumstances that exist simultaneously.”
Leading the Conversation
When Black women were not included in community conversations, she created a convening to accomplish just that. The most recent edition of Not Just Talk: Black Women Matter was held earlier in September. The agenda? Exploring their intersectional identities and finding long-term solutions. New to her approach is a more intersectional look at food work through an explicit radical Black feminist lens. How are race, gender, equity, patriarchy and sexism affecting reproductive justice and rights and access. Also, how it influences the ways in which access to food impacts Black women and children.
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Another program in the works is the dinner series, Sis Do You, to be held the first Saturday in October at the Bronx Heritage Music Center where 20-25 young women between the ages of 14 -30, with an emphasis on mothers, will be invited to have a meal with Fields. She plans to have special dinner guests to facilitate guided conversations around topics that impact them. “It’s another way for us to think about how we use food as a platform to explore and interrogate these intersections that create these food inaccess issues,” says Fields. Of course, all of this work requires fundraising and through the nonprofit, Fields has a giving page aiming for $500,000, part of which includes laying the foundation for a community space for women and girls.
Fields also invested in another project, Mama Tanya's Kitchen, where she creates nutritious and accessible food to share via recipes and videos online to doing more interactive food demos in person. “My cuisine isn’t specialized. I like to do my lived experience growing up in a family that has Southern Baptist roots, but then I like to mix in east Asian flavors so I cook with sesame oil and fish sauce or I love Indian food, so I cook with madras curry,” she shares.
The past year or two has also meant less visibility in the public eye for Fields compared to when she was at speaking engagements and other events dissecting everything from radical mothering to healthy food and Black women. “This year saw lots of growth and anxiety. I learned a lot. I buckled down in expanding the organization and am responsible for a lot of people all the time. That’s a lot of pressure,” she says referring to her small staff in addition to her responsibilities as a single mother caring for six children ranging in age from 17 to 4.
Many of the issues she addresses, Fields has either personally experienced or observed around her in the process of making the Bronx her home base for her family. Armed with a bachelor's in political science from Baruch College, she has years of work experience with several known nonprofits in the area before establishing her own. Her efforts in improving the health and living conditions of marginalized communities have been recognized and won her awards and grants, but she isn’t resting on her laurels just yet.
Up next, she is preparing for her first Mama Tanya’s Kitchen in-person pop-up dinner also in October. For the long run though, Fields is looking to move into more food and lifestyle personality work and branding with somewhat of the same social justice perspective as British chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver. She is also looking at a change in location; moving away from New York and buying her first home in Atlanta, Ga.
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She envisions a farm close to the city where she can run a supper club series and own a bed and breakfast as part of a hospitality business. She shares, “I know I belong on television. I know that I have a voice that is oftentimes ignored because it’s not wrapped up in a certain type of respectability. Somehow, somewhere there is a big beautiful kitchen with an island, that’s my dream, and that’s where I will be recording my show from.”