Systemic Inequalities Experienced by Black People Working in the Food Industry

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This piece was written by our Community Ambassador, Food publisher, writer and advocate Riaz Phillips. You can find out more about Riaz here

Having a successful career in the food industry is a dream for millions of people. This hasn’t wavered even with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Like other industries in the UK, it comes with its difficulties for ethnic minorities. I have spent years in the restaurant and food industry. It’s one of the most economically hard customer service businesses out there. Margins are thin, and this means it is hard for everyone no matter what their background is. For Black people though it seems undeniably harder. This article will outline some of those pitfalls.

Stereotyping in the food industry

Of the largestAsian-inspiredMexican, and Caribbean restaurant chains in the UK, it’s interesting to note that none are owned by people from those respective regions. This suggests that a food is more likely to become popular and successful without its founding culture. Recipes are altered and names are changed. Ambience is sterilised and presented with stereotypes. 

This leaves any Black chefs and restaurateurs that try to cook from an authentic standpoint, with their own heritage, out in the cold. To combat this, Spark & Co. has some great resources for connecting with a whole host of communities. I recommend creating dialogue with people in your community.  As an example, produce an action plan on how to combat these stereotypes via methods like online content creation.

Funding discrimination in the food industry

In the UK, Black people haven’t been able to cultivate generational wealth. This means they cannot rely on an internal community for access to finance. Many, then have to go outside their community to seek funding. Aspiring Black business owners often struggle to get large investments, which would assist in growing their businesses. 

While Black and other ethnic minority groups account for 50% of start-up loans, these only range from £500 to £25,000. This sum is roughly enough to cover a month's overhead in London today for perspective. Spark & Co. has a growing contact list of resources in the funding and entrepreneurship space. Organisations and groups like this can assist in creating alternative ways to launch a business. They can also point you in the direction of alternative funding avenues too.

Publishing discrimination in the food industry

Book publishing is another billion-pound industry that feeds into the food industry ecosystem. This space is also not without its faults. The decision making cohort of most major UK publishers are majority white, indicating a lack of upper level diversity. In this space, white chefs can become experts on any number of international cuisines. 

One spin off of the  Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 was #PublishingPaidMe. This exposed the publishing industry in staff and client payment. Many people dream of having a cookbook. To this, I would say it is better to focus on growing your own audience first rather than striving for a book deal. One of the key ways to bolster this is by creating your own ebook. This can help reach more people and you don’t need permission from anyone else.

CIS-Gender Hierarchy in the food industry

Another drawback in food is the inherent sexism in the industry. 2021 saw the UK’s first women identifying person of any colour win a Michelin star. This is an institution that represents the top echelon of the food world. Note that Michelin has been awarding prizes since 1926. That is almost 100 years. Of course, there’s never been a restaurant owned or ‘head-cheffed’ by a Black woman. Since interviewing hundreds of restaurant owners I have heard countless stories of woe. 

This strife has implications financially and mentally. These are things to be aware of when entering this industry. If you are in the industry and are facing these perils, Spark & Co. has a growing list of resources tailored to aiding women with criminal justice support, mental wellbeing and more.

 Whilst there are several existing systemic barriers for Black people within the food industry, we encourage you to build connections with your community, explore the resources that are available and draw inspiration from those paving the way ahead: