South African People Of Colour (POC) at the table

Monday, 25 February, 2019
Azolile Khoncoshe
The first gathering of people of colour in the food and beverage industry - cooks/chefs, sommeliers, stylists, activists, entrepreneurs, producers, media and allies took place on 13 February, in the very exciting ‘SA POC at the Table’ conference.

Young experts and leaders in the food and beverage industry gathered to collaborate and share in a series of uplifting talks, open discussions and demonstrations. The line-up of speakers included veteran African food expert and writer Dorah Sithole, Mogau Seshoene of the groundbreaking Lazy Makoti cookbook, chef Coco Reinarhz of Epicure in Sandton, Katlego Mlambo (ex-Test Kitchen, Pot Luck Club), chef/entrepreneur Abigail Mbalo (4Roomed eKasi Culture), Karen Dudley - restaurateur, chef and author, food activist Zayaan Khan of Apocalypse Kitchen and many other beloved personalities.

Azolile Khoncoshe, a third year student studying Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University got to attend the event.

In his own words, he describes his experience: ‘Wow, where do I even begin writing this report? My mind and spirit are still filled and astonished from the event. The event took place at Salt River, in Yew Street. It was mainly composed of people of colour (POC) from the food and beverage industry. The venue was fitting for such gathering - spacious, beautiful and user friendly.

The two organisers, Ishay Govender and Zayaan Khan, made the guests feel welcome and encouraged everyone to actively participate in the talks. The discussions focused on rebuilding the black community and their food and drinks culture, to break contemporary boundaries and the socio-economic struggle that are imposed to people of colour. In order to achieve these aims, it was established that it is our responsibility as the people of colour to build a longer table, to collaborate and try overcome these issues.

Most speakers were from the food industry - some were chefs, some were food stylists and writers. Mrs Dorah Sithole was a former True Love magazine editor and is now a food and travel writer and a food stylist. She is the author of Cooking from Cape to Cairo, and has won numerous awards within the food sector, as well as cooked for prestigious candidates within the world. For me, the highlight of her speech was that people of colour are misrepresented in food industry, especially in food media, and we are not represented in leading positions at all. She challenged us, saying we should be sure of what we want and what we are really passionate about. When we are employed, our employers expect results. Don’t tell people what you can do if you can’t deliver the results when given the opportunity. In her exact words, which inside my mind I was like ‘Yeeeeees preaaach mama!’, she said ”Don’t make all that noise if you can’t deliver”. She is truly a food icon.

In the gathering, the contribution of education was emphasized, and its impact in moulding our future. Currently the state of education and its base system does not include the people of colour’s heritage or their indigenous foods. This was the cry almost from all the discussions. It was then said in order to fix all this, there is a need to implement an education system that will enable indigenous knowledge of our food to be the standard.

Hearing all the stories of the other people helped me realise that I’m not alone in the struggle. I also realised it is not the struggle that determines my destiny, but rather my attitude towards that struggle and what I choose to do. One of the speakers said that we should not act as victims, and in that way we will not be victimised. If we always see ourselves as the victims of any kind of oppression or struggle, we will always be victimised.

I felt so rejuvenated, empowered and filled with the hunger to do something for the society in which I live.