Yes, I’m black. No, I don’t eat chicken.
Frustrating food complexities of African-Americans
“Chicken is meat!” she declared. I’ll never forget this moment in my early days as a vegetarian. It came from a co-worker, a black woman, who’d just heard me say I’d gone meatless around 2005. I’d done it off and on during my college years, whenever I wasn’t eating my mother’s cooking during spring and summer breaks.
By the time I’d earned my undergraduate degree in 2003, I’d decided that I didn’t like meat much. I still ate seafood on occasion, but it was harder to tell someone, “I don’t eat anything that has eyes” when that’s the one thing staring right back at me from grocery store aisles. So I threw in the towel on everything with eyes.
But on the “chicken” day, my editing team was about to order food for a few co-workers’ birthdays. I requested a black bean version of whatever was ordered, and the sista stopped me. She wanted to know why I ordered that particular item. I told her, “I don’t eat meat.” That’s when she hit me with the accusatory chicken comment. I paused, thinking how problematic it was for a black woman to assume another black woman must eat chicken, and dropped my shoulders.
“Have you ever seen me eat chicken the entire time I’ve worked here?” I asked her.
She paused. “You don’t eat chicken?”
If she was white, I would’ve been pretty pissed off by now. I snapped, “Clearly if I just said I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat chicken.” But the dumbfounded expression on her face at the thought of someone black not eating chicken made me feel a way. I turned around and walked off.
This memory came to mind while reading Sondra Rose Marie piece, “Should I Eat Watermelon in Front of White People? The hassle of navigating an ugly stereotype.” America’s history has given black folks a food complex, and sometimes the issues are internal. When comedian Wanda Sykes joked that she felt like her daughter was making fun of her, while happily munching away at watermelon, I felt that.