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Food Shame at Work: An Oft-Overlooked Employee Experience

Food Shame at Work: An Oft-Overlooked Employee Experience

Sharing meals can be a way of bringing colleagues together. But food can also be a source of judgment, shame and division in a workplace. Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson, author of Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America, joins the podcast to discuss how employers and employees can be more mindful about cultural and class differences in approaches to food, eating, costs, waste and more. "Food plays a lot of different roles in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not ... whether it's in our homes or the workplace or any other institution we engage with," Williams-Forson says.

Camille Lloyd is the Director of the Gallup Center on Black Voices. Follow her at @policyresrchbuf

Dr. Ella F. Washington is the CEO of Ellavate Solutions and a Professor of Practice at Georgetown McDonough School of Business. Follow her at @EllaFWashington

Learn more about the Gallup Center on Black Voices at

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Ella Washington 00:11

Here on Cultural Competence, we often talk about what happens in the workplace, right? But many organizations have been using this age-old, "bring your whole self to work" terminology, and for so many reasons that we've discussed here on the podcast, that often does not actually happen. But one thing in particular that we often are bringing from home is our food, or even our habits, right? Even if we're buying food at lunch during the workday, you know, that's something that we're having to bring into our office. And so when we think about food, Camille, what comes to mind for you, as far as how food and culture relates to the workplace?

Camille Lloyd 00:52
I love this week's episode, because you tend to kind of overlook food in this idea of "whole self." We regulate ourselves so much when it comes to food and what we share about what we eat, because food is so personal; it's our culture. So I have, like, I had certain rules, right? If we were at a company function, and there were some what you would call quintessential foods there, that people are gonna be like, OK, just because you're Black, you're Black, you're gonna eat the fried chicken and watermelon and the corn or what have you. And so you start to regulate, you know, what foods you choose, or maybe how you eat it. Like I eat my chicken down to the bone. So I was like, well maybe I wouldn't pick the chicken because I know the way I want to eat the chicken, I probably can't eat the chicken at the work function that way.

Camille Lloyd 01:41
But I also start to think through, just from a historical perspective and a cultural perspective. So growing up Jamaican and coming from Jamaica and going to school, and you bring lunches to school. And you bring lunches that was prepared at home, usually last night's dinner or this is what a Jamaican lunch looks for, looks like. So it's ackee and saltfish, and so you're like, I just want to be like the regular kids and bring a PB and J, but here I am have to explain what is ackee and saltfish, right? And it certainly kind of highlights our differences, because you'll get a whole host of questions. And so some of that is learned pretty early on about what I regulate, about what I eat and who I share what I eat with. And I think sometimes that translates into the break room at work and what foods I choose to bring so I can heat it up without you know, having an issue where somebody walks in and go, "What is that smell?" I don't know. What about you? Have you had any of those experiences where you feel like you had to regulate who you are through the food you're choosing or not choosing?

Ella Washington 02:49
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the same rules apply. You know, don't eat the fried chicken; don't bring watermelon as a Black person. But, you know, I've also heard from other cultures some of the same challenges. You know, as you mentioned, food that may have a stronger aroma and a very particular aroma, right? People won't bring that to work, and you notice that they're not eating or they'll go off by in the corner because they don't want anybody to comment. And so it's a very, very real thing. And then I think back to growing up and going to public schools and how they had free lunch in the cafeteria for those of lower socioeconomic incomes. And it was a moment of, you know, people having to be ashamed or, you know, trying to hide the fact that they were on free lunch in some ways or not being able to ask for more or different options because they had to choose from a certain menu and things like that.

Ella Washington 03:43
And you know, that was grade school. And so I often wonder, how is that translating to the workplace today? We make a lot of assumptions. We make assumptions that everyone can afford, you know, where we're going for lunch or everyone can afford to even eat in the, in the lunch cafeteria. And quite honestly, I've never had a conversation about food choices with the chief human resource officer or a chief diversity officer. So I don't think it's something that many people are thinking about, but we should. And that's exactly why I'm excited for our conversation today with Dr. Williams-Forson about food shaming and eating while Black and the cultural elements of food that maybe we're not remembering.

Ella Washington 04:25
Doctor Psyche Williams-Forson is a professor and chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park. Her research and teaching interests include cultural studies, material culture, food, women's studies, and the social and cultural history of the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Dr Williams-Forson is one of the leading thinkers about food in America. Her books include Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World and the award-winning Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power. Her latest research and upcoming book, Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America, explores food shaming and food policing in African American communities and will be released July of 2022. Welcome, Dr. Williams-Forson!

Psyche Williams-Forson 05:17
Thank you very much, Ella. It's my pleasure to be here.

Camille Lloyd 05:21
Welcome, Dr. Forson. So I'm gonna get us kicked off here and really trying to understand what's the significance of food in the history of Black people in this country and, frankly, also around the globe?

Psyche Williams-Forson 05:33
Great, thank you, Camille, and thank you also for hosting me today. You know, I mean, food is a fundamental object or set of objects that we all tend to engage with on an everyday, regular basis. Sometimes for that reason, because it's so much a part of our everyday life, we don't think that it has any importance, whether that's from the perspective of having plenty, most likely and most often, but it is very important, especially for those who have little, right? And so food becomes important in those ways, right, from the standpoint of sustenance. But part of what I try to share with people is that while sustenance is one part of the food conversation, it's so much bigger than that because food is part of our heritages and legacies. Food is about issues of power and negotiating power, and that's not always between genders; it's also between entities. Food says a lot about who we are as members of community, who we are as individuals. So food plays a lot of different roles in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we recognize it or not, whether it's in our home, our workplace or any of the various institutions that we engage with every day.

Ella Washington 07:07
So this sounds a bit like, you know, when people say, "Bring your whole self to work," that kind of includes food and your relationship with food, your understanding of food, your cultural connection to food. And how have you seen this have a specific impact on Black communities?

Psyche Williams-Forson 07:23
Right. So to build on the first answer, you know, food is one of these things, again, as I said, we tend to downplay it. But let me just go back historically for a moment. When enslaved Africans were brought to this country, to South America through Europe, food was fundamental to their transport during the Middle Passage, before the Middle Passage, after the formal closing of the, of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in the sense that we have to remember, enslaved people were labor force. Right? And so they had to be fed, they had to be nourished. They had to be cared for. Well, what food was used to do that? Well, foods were bought from the continent. Then, of course, during, at different ports, foods were traded and bartered. People were bartered for food.

Psyche Williams-Forson 08:23
You know, I was having this conversation recently regarding an exhibit that I created for the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. In the Chesapeake region, which Virginia, Maryland, Delaware along the Eastern Seaboard, foods like coffee and coffee beans were brought and traded and bartered. And, and in many cases Black people's bodies were used as, as currency for these kinds of food. So now you introduce an entirely different dimension and reason for understanding food, right? -- as a bartering tool. At the same time, foods like peppers, hot peppers and African yam and different tubers were brought on board to help provision and feed those who were making the treacherous journey across the waterways.

Psyche Williams-Forson 09:19
The other thing we learned from this conversation are gender dynamics. Women were brought aboard slave ships to cook the food that had to be used to feed those who were being, who had been kidnapped and who were being brutalized even on those slave ships, and then, of course, taken to different places throughout the, throughout the globe. One of the things that I heard, I had the pleasure of hearing Nicole Hannah-Jones speak a couple of weeks ago. And one of the things she emphasized was the was the treachery and the brutality of sugar cane fields, where so many Africans and then African Americans worked. That's food -- sugar, you know, you know, the late anthropologist Sidney Mintz talks about sweetness and power, right, and the dynamics between sugar, the growth of sugar and the sugar cane fields.

Psyche Williams-Forson 10:17
So again, we tend to visualize and think of food only like what I eat right now. But the dimensions of food are so varied and great that exploring them and understanding the various dimensions of dietary health, of economics, of labor, and how it's all tied into race and Black people's human bodies. It's so intricately woven that our history of food in this country and other countries -- in the U.S. and beyond, North America and beyond -- are just so intricately entwined.

Camille Lloyd 11:00
You talk about in your work this concept of "food shaming." Can you tell us? And for our listeners who are not, you know, familiar what is food shaming? And, you know, we, some of us may have experienced it but not quite sure. You know, what is food shaming?

Psyche Williams-Forson 11:18
Sure. All of us have definitely experienced food shaming at some point. We have, right? We have. Like you said, whether we knew it or not. It could be, for example, something as maybe simple as when you're in the lunchroom as a child having, not having enough money to buy a hot lunch, right? And I've heard this story so much. I didn't actually include it in my new book, but I hear it so often about young children who are embarrassed because their parents can't afford hot lunch or what have you. And so they have to eat a cold cheese sandwich. That is a form of food shaming. Or you can have the workplace instance, which is shared in some, in some different memoirs about, for example, going out to eat with your colleagues during lunch, and everyone is young, thin and perceived to be pretty. And so everybody's ordering salad, but you're super hungry, right? And so you're eating, you want to eat something different, but you're just nervous and afraid because you don't want someone to comment, right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 12:27
Or going into a grocery store, especially various ethnic markets, which we in the Washington, D.C., area have plenty of -- whether they are Asian owned, Korean markets, whether they are owned by Africans or those from some part of the Latina community, and being hit with a particular smell when you enter that particular store. Right? I've had students say, "Oh my God, the smell was horrifying!" And I was like, "Well it's different," you know. But imagine us going into your local mom and pop, and you're saying, "Oh my God, that food is horrifying" or "that smell is horrifying." So all of us have experienced different types of food shaming. And I start this new book with an incident that happened in Washington, D.C., where a Washington, D.C., Metro worker was eating on the train. And this, this incident happened a couple of years ago. And she was eating her lunch or what have you. And someone took a picture of her; another professional who was on the train took a picture, and then she posted it on social media and basically said, you know, we have to, we as common riders have to abide by the rules. But, you know, the Metro workers don't. Well, there's just so much to impact in that scenario. Why are you taking pictures of people, you know, in their work clothes, doing thus and so. You know, what was really the point of that, of that, if not to shame, you know, this person, right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 14:05
And as it turns out, there are reasons that she was eating on the, on the train. You know rules had been actually changed just prior to that, that said that the Metro police were no longer going to issue citations for people eating and listening to music. Well, the Metro worker knew this, but the person who took the picture did not. And so they received a lot of backlash because why are you shaming people around food? And to boot, it was a Black woman, you know, who probably didn't want her corporeal body, her body to be on display on social media, on Twitter, showing her eating.

Psyche Williams-Forson 14:40
So none of us are immune. I know lots of folks who choose not to eat certain foods at work, especially Black people, who, they won't eat foods that may, even though these may be cultural foods that they would love to have -- fufu soup, you know, or whatever the case may be, jollof rice or what have you. But they refuse to eat it at work because of the smell, or they don't want some unknowing person to come and stare over them, "What are you eating?" You know, all that kind of, Ew! You know, I, my former partner was and he would say things like you know we get ridiculed because we eat with our hands. Yeah.

Psyche Williams-Forson 15:34
And so these everyday acts are really assaults on our person and our bodies. You know, we all have histories and cultures, and we all enjoy those. And yet we often violate other people's histories and cultures simply because they're different from ours. So that's what I mean by "food shaming" -- when we decide we're just gonna, without thinking and without filtering, "Ew, what are you eating?" "Oh, that looks gross." "Oh my God, I can't believe you like avocado." "Oh, it's so nasty." You know, we're not cognizant of how we respond to people around the foods that they choose to privilege for their own sustenance and enjoyment.

Ella Washington 16:21
You know, in thinking about all the shifts in the past two years because of COVID-19, one thing that comes to mind is the complaints I used to hear from our clients that, you know, they would experience some of these food shaming behaviors when they were in the office. But now that they're working mostly from home, they feel a lot more comfortable, because they can eat their foods and they can feel more comfortable. So what do you say to the organization that's now trying to get people to come back, and they're trying to be more intentional around the environments they're creating? What advice might you give them specifically about being inclusive and welcoming to all foods and cultures and really embracing those differences versus having a standard of similarity that we may have been used to?

Psyche Williams-Forson 17:10
You know, it's interesting because in these last two years, as we have been protecting ourselves by quarantining and being in our homes or, or at times being challenged by being in our homes because there's less protection at home than there is somewhere else, you're right. Food has very much been a part of, of our everyday existence -- food, but also, of course, we know, hunger. For some, for example, in our department at the University of Maryland, we worried, because prior to COVID, we had food baskets where students could come and pick up, you know, cup of noodles and other quick eatery kinds of things. And so we did worry that some of those very students who were benefiting from those baskets were unable to get those foods once we closed down.

Psyche Williams-Forson 18:04
In the workplace, it's interesting because we are affected, all of us, not only by the COVID experience, but also by the attention to racial injustice that has taken place over the last two years with the death of, the murder of George Floyd. And so all of us are coming back into these arenas where we're now having to see face to face coworkers who, before those two experiences in particular, we may have had strained relationships with, we may have had great relationships with. And now two years later, we're coming back, and we're looking at each other differently. Quite frankly, we are. We're looking at each other differently. We're wondering, you know, are you someone who I have to be concerned about? Are you, you know, what side do you fall? And not only just the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor and the murder of so many other African American men and women. But now we're also dealing with Ahmaud Arbery, for example. But now we're also dealing with Roe v. Wade.

Psyche Williams-Forson 19:06
So there's a lot of cultural happenings that are going to inform as we, that are informing our lives as we come back. And you say, well that's not connected to food. Very much it is. Because who are we eating with at work and what are we eating? And the smallest of situations can set off a torrent of issues that are totally, we weren't prepared for. Right. We're all sitting around and eating. And the conversation comes up about what has happened in the last two years just off the cuff, and it could send someone into a tailspin. Right? And so what do we do to address your question? To ask your question? What do we do? Well, for one thing, I think it's important that we not seek to tolerate one another. I never liked that phrase about tolerate difference. I think it's important that we not seek to just be, because diversity says that we should, you know, do this or do that. I think it's important that we seek these moments to really understand the differences that we embrace and the similarities -- really understand that. Allow food in this case to be that salve if you will, that allows you to sit across the table from someone else, see what they're eating, and sort of say, Huh, OK, tell me more about that. Because in them telling you more about what it is they're eating and perhaps why they're also telling you about who they are and their cultural heritage. It could be different; it could be same. One of the things we find out, though, is that we maybe all eat, or what you find out is that a person is less food secure than you. Right? And so in knowing that that person may be less food secure than you or knowing that they may have fewer resources than you, now you're gonna guard yourself a little differently about, "Oh, you should come out to eat here," or "You should come out to eat there," and if they choose not to do that somehow being oh, you're not a team player. Of course they are.

Psyche Williams-Forson 21:08
But for example, I remember my niece not long ago said, you know, I I'm being considered an angry Black woman pretty much at work because I don't go out and drink with my colleagues. She's like, I don't drink, you know, and it makes me uncomfortable to be around people who drink. And yet I don't want to have to reveal all of that discomfort and the reasons for that discomfort. I just want to be able to say, "Hey, I'm not gonna go hang out with you guys. You all go ahead; I'll see you tomorrow at work," without feeling like I'm judged or hearing later that I'm not a good, you know, team player. So we have to be concerned and mindful of how we respond to people's lives, period. Some people are coming back heavily traumatized. Some people are coming back very worried that they left at home children or they left loved ones at home that, about whom they're concerned. If they decide they don't want to eat with you, it's not, it shouldn't be a personal affront, nor should they have to explain themselves but simply understand and listen. Listen to people's tone, watch people's body language and so forth and so on. And then we can begin to understand that, that folks are really still struggling on so many different levels. And food becomes a major revealer of that, and it can also be a major hider of those types of emotions and experiences.

Camille Lloyd 22:29
You mentioned about food security and some of your work around some of those structural issues that that are in place that, you know, kind of show the inequities that exist within our society. For our listeners who are not aware what food insecurity is, can you talk a little bit more about what is food insecurity, and how does that play into some of the inequities that we see in society?

Psyche Williams-Forson 22:54
Sure. So food insecurity simply means that you are without consistent foodstuffs on a regular basis. Whether it means you, because of your economic situation, perhaps because of your ability or disability, because of your location, your region -- most of the time it's economics -- you may be unable to access food. Now, I want to say something about that, because I read a great article not long ago about gas station food, right? Some people are like, yeah, so there you go that food chain, but there are a lot of restaurants that are run out of, out of gas stations. And if a person is, if they're running into 7-11 and they're getting a couple of, you know, maybe Jamaican meat patties, some wings or what have you, we could sit in judgment of those people. But then I would ask you, how much more healthy is your, you know, really nice meal that is that you received at Cava or some other restaurant? Not that there's anything wrong with Cava, but I'm saying the amounts of money that we spend eating out becomes very much a part of a judgment that we use to wage, again, shame upon people. OK, you, you eat at the gas station, but I eat over here at this restaurant. Well, the two are actually very similar because you've got preservatives in both. You maybe have different other kinds of ingredients in both. But because of the dollar value placed on those particular eating places, we tend to wage a particular judgment.

Psyche Williams-Forson 24:37
The food insecure person, however, may be buying most of their daily groceries from 7-11, as opposed to the grocery store, because the grocery store is not really as much of a panacea or catch-all or an answer to everyone as we think it is. People who are food insecure perhaps only eat once a day; sometimes they don't eat at all. Sometimes they're eating from a vending machine. That is part of a structural system, because no one in these United States in particular, where we're talking about liberties and justices for all should be without food, especially given the amount of food that we waste, not only in this country, but around the world. No one should be without food. And yet we know so many do go without any kind of meal or are reduced to having to scavenge for food out of trash cans and other, behind, you know, in alleys and in other places. That's the shame of this country and other countries that allow their citizens to live that way.

Psyche Williams-Forson 25:40
But on an individual level, you know, food, food insecurity is at its most basic with being without food. And then you can go one step further: being without healthy food. Then you can go one step further: being without wholesome food -- however you want to characterize it, but on a consistent basis. So one of the things I talk about in Eating While Black, in the last chapter, I talk about "eating in the meantime." What do we do while we're trying to change the agro-industrial food system? How do we allow people to be wholesome and whole? One of the places that I advocate obtaining food from is the dollar store. And I'm gonna catch a lot of flak for this because of all the horrible stuff that's been in the news lately about Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, General Dollar. Be that as it may, when you are of a particular means, when you are maybe aged, when you are young, when you have to take medication, when you have to eat in order to survive, when you have to eat in order to live, Dollar Trees and dollar stores can become, can become an option for supplementing and, in some instances, creating a food outlet. Is it the best? No, I don't think anyone can argue that it is, but sometimes it will do in a pinch. Sometimes it will do because that's what your budget can afford. And it's the difference between your taking medication, for example, or not eating at all.
Psyche Williams-Forson 27:25
And so I think that, or I know, part of what we have to do is be way more elastic in our thinking, be more flexible in our operations on a daily basis and be way more pliable, that is, loose and so forth, in understanding that we are complex human beings and we come to these decisions with varieties of life informing the decisions that we make around food. Whether that's eating at a fast food restaurant, whether that's eating at the top-scale restaurant, whatever it may be, there are a number of different things that inform those decisions, and that we need to respect people's decisions that they make for themselves. And that's where I think we have so much of the breakdown. We don't respect people as humans. We don't respect people's lives. We don't respect the difficulties of their lives, the easiness of their lives. We don't respect it. We sit in judgment of what other people do and how they do it on a regular basis, as if we're walking miles and miles and miles in their shoes.

Ella Washington 28:37
What comes to mind for me as you're talking about this is, you know, the fact that there's a lot of assumptions when you work in the same place with other people. That we're making similar money, so everyone should be able to afford food, right? Or, you know, there shouldn't be someone who is homeless or going hungry and other inequities that we know happen all of the time. And I'm wondering, you know, what advice you would have for people in positions of authority and power in organizations, in order to acknowledge these, you know, life differences that people have but also what the organization can do. So, for example, as you know, many of the tech organizations have free lunch or free breakfast, right? And different from, you know, in the grade school system where you have to qualify and, you know, that can be a point of shame as well, it's for everyone. Right? Is that a, is that a fix, right, to some of these problems? What would you say to that?

Psyche Williams-Forson 29:37
Yeah, I think, you know, and the short answer, it's yes, it can be a fix. At the same time, it can also be wholly uncomfortable for people. There are lots of folks for whom it is immensely important that they pay for everything, because it's a matter of pride. OK, that's great. And then that can be that option. On the other hand, there are people who are like, yeah I could afford it but hey, I get food at work. And that's great, because again, if you're dealing with people just because you have a well-paying job -- and I was observing this conversation on Twitter one time: If you make X amount of money, you should not, be this, that and the other. Well, that was very presumptuous. You know, if you make this amount of money, you should not, you should have a savings account. What? Have you thought about the price of healthcare in America? Do you know what happens that if many of us are one paycheck short of being broke because of a particular medical calamity. Right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 30:36
And so I think, to your earlier point, so many of us make assumptions about other people's lives, right? But when you offer a variety of different types of foods at work, broccoli and different vegetables, a salad bar, maybe, you know, baked chicken or what have you or, and foods that may be particular to other cultures, kebab, things of this nature, right? When you offer those kinds of things, you help to bridge some of the difficulties that we've been talking about today. Because you are, as an employer, you are in tune with your workforce, right? And you're showing your workforce in multiple ways that you appreciate who people are, right? One of the very interesting things I think about the workplace is that we are always assuming that the most important thing you can do is pay people well. I agree: We all need money. We all want money. We all want it to live, that is. And so it's one of the most important. But even if I go to a job where I'm making millions, if I feel stressed the entire time I'm at work because I feel like I'm in a racial hotbed of tension, then it doesn't matter how well I'm paid. Because now, you know, a lot of folks are like, you pay me a million dollars, I can deal with -- you can deal with this, that and the other for so long, right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 32:10
And this is one of the problems I have when we make food do a lot of heavy lifting, and we're like, if you ate better, if you did this, if you did that, if you ate this kind of diet, if you ate that kind of diet, you would be so much. Listen, as a Black woman in America, I could eat the best diet, work out every day, and stand up in my house and get shot through the window or run the risk of my house being battery-rammed in the middle of the night because someone has the wrong address. Or I can go out walking in my neighborhood and get shot from the street because I'm a particular race. Or I could get stopped at the street light, end up in jail, and next thing I know, I'm hanging from a rafter. OK. So we need to be very, very clear not to allow objects like food or anything else to do the work that we as humans need to do with each other.

Psyche Williams-Forson 33:02
Providing food at an office place would be great, right, and all kinds of varieties, because it could help many people bridge the gap between work and home. It can help people who are short on money during the day. But all of that really means nothing if you're also going to treat me like I'm not human and like I don't exist. And if you don't foster those kinds of engagements at, in the workplace, which are capitalist enterprises, we understand that; they're not, you know, I'm not here to make friends. Well, yeah, no, you're not, but at the same time, we gotta live together for eight hours. We should probably have some sort of commonalities and ways of being human toward each other. Right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 33:48
So all of it is actually tied in together. And I want to close by saying this: And that means recognizing you may have some vegans on your staff. You may have some folks who don't or do consume meat. You may have some folks who are Muslim and so certain foods not, are, are not palatable. You may have some folks for whom dairy is a problem. You know, you have a variety, but if you're gonna offer it, be mindful to do so in a way that at least stretches the broadest set of audiences. And I'm reminded here of like hospital cafeterias, right, where you have the whole pana, you know, the whole smorgasbord, right, from ice cream to some kind of vegetable to a dessert or what have you. Is it expensive? Yes. Will it pay off with your employees? Absolutely. Because you're going to have people who are going to, at times at least, try and seek common ground because they're going to eat together and have different kinds of conversations.

Ella Washington 34:49
Dr. Forson, we'd like to close out with a question to all of our guests and thinking about what's possible. So we've talked a lot about some of the challenges, very realistic inequities that we see in our communities that stretch even to the workplace. But I want to ask you, you know, with all the work and research, you've done, what would a workplace utopia look like, in terms of food equality, specifically? What would you like to see? What would it feel like to work somewhere where they really saw these challenges, inequities? They read all of your books, and they've made significant changes. So what does workplace utopia look like for you?

Psyche Williams-Forson 35:28
Yeah, workplace utopia, especially from the standpoint of food, does exactly what you all indicated and asked at the end. Right. It provides a variety of foods at different price points, from sliding scale -- you can pay as much as you like, or you can pay as little as you like. You can pay what you have; you don't have to pay anything at all. Because then that allows for, again, that elasticity that I was mentioning, right? It allows people who want to feel like they are paying for their lunch to do that, because that's what they have to do. And that allows those people who are like, yeah, I like to save my money to do that as well. Having varieties, food with different spices, foods that you know, may be from different countries, foods that are quick to make, foods that may be a little bit more laborious.

Psyche Williams-Forson 36:17
But not just the food but showing a variety of chefs and cooks, so that it's not just one set of racial identifiable people who are cooking across the spectrum. And you're like, oh my gosh, who are these people? And where you, where did you learn how to cook? You know, because it doesn't taste like what I'm familiar with. But you have decided that, even though you're cooking, and again, I'm just gonna use Ghanaian food, even though you're cooking fufu, that you have someone who doesn't really know what it means or what they're doing to cook these foods. Because food is intensely personal. And I need us to be clear about that. As I stated in my book, food is like any other set of objects. And we engage objects every day, from our clothing to our accessories to our phones to our workplace apparatus. Food is just like that. And if you take it away or if you mess it up or if you do something that others feel is a violation, that affects a person's person, right?

Psyche Williams-Forson 37:18
So for me, a workplace utopia recognizes those kinds of opportunities. A workplace utopia also makes it possible for folks if you, if you want something later in the afternoon, you can go get it, and you don't have to feel any shame if you're there. For people who may be fuller of figure or those who may be thinner, but they need to eat a certain number of calories. You know, it includes all of those considerations. And that's not, it's expensive perhaps, but it's not difficult to do because you can do it on a grand scale if you have that opportunity; you can do it on a small scale.

Psyche Williams-Forson 37:51
As I said, my department, on three floors in our building, we have a basket that has different kinds of foods for our students who may come through un, you know, unseen, you know, you know, just sort of stealthily, if you will, to pick up whatever might be there. And they can go and use a microwave or what have you to sustain themselves during the day. So I think that that, it's probably one of the ways you can come close to being a workplace utopia. There's so many other ways, of course, that power dynamics come into play there -- not making people feel as if they are less than because they're engaging in these kinds of food options. And at the same time, celebrating cultures, not just during Juneteenth or during Eid, or during any other type of cultural, Hanukkah, any other kind of celebration. But recognizing year round that food is a part of who we are as humans. It's part of our fabric. And when we celebrate these things in and out of season, we are validating each other, and we're validating one another's cultures, which I think adds to the workplace piece.

Camille Lloyd 39:04
I love that! Dr. Psyche, thank you so much for your time and for your wisdom that you have shared with us and our listeners here at Cultural Competence. We are so fortunate to have you and look forward to the new book and all your research and work that you will continue to do around this.

Psyche Williams-Forson 39:21
Thank you, and thank you all for some really insightful and engaging questions.

Camille Lloyd 39:29
That's our podcast. To subscribe to Cultural Competence from any podcast app, just search "Cultural Competence." You can learn more about the Gallup Center on Black Voices by visiting Cultural Competence is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Camille Lloyd.

Ella Washington 39:47
And I'm Dr. Ella Washington.

Camille Lloyd 39:48

Thanks for tuning in to Cultural Competence -- a diversity and inclusion podcast.

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