Since the 2016 presidential election, Americans have turned out in record numbers to make their voices heard through activism, with first-time protesters working alongside seasoned organizers to find innovative ways to lead in cities across America. In the ongoing fight for social justice, even those on the front lines need to eat. Today, when people take to the streets—and phone banks and airwaves—there’s a growing movement of dedicated, volunteer-led culinary collectives right beside them offering activists a way to fuel their bodies, all while nourishing their connection to one another and the causes so deeply important to them.
“We’re like street medics, but with food,” says Sarah Stock of Seeds of Peace Radical Catering Collective. “We like to make ‘pocket food,’ so when we walk along with the crowd [at a march] we can share it with them. We’ve done pierogi, empanadas, burritos. A tamale is really good.”
And while marches may have become more commonplace since the presidential election in 2016, peaceful protesting is nothing new—and neither is the need to eat while doing it. Founded in 1986, Seeds of Peace has been traveling across the country for decades feeding people at protests and sit-ins against everything from climate injustice to human rights violations. And they always keep in mind that cooking alongside the community is key.
“There’s an enormous legacy when it comes to food and activism,” says Julia Turshen, author of Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved. “Both are entirely about community. We need to take care of ourselves and each other. Food is not just an essential need to cross off the list: It’s also one of the most tangible ways to feel truly taken care of.”
Stock agrees; that’s central to the Seeds of Peace mission. “We want to help people feel individual empowerment and community solidarity,” she says, adding that they try to create menus that make people feel comfortable. “For instance, we don’t want to serve vegan food in the Navajo Nation where they traditionally eat a lot of meat.” Similar organizations—including Food Not Bombs and the Pots & Pans Kitchen Collective—have brought sustenance to the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter movements, and more. These groups are volunteer-based, and sometimes recover leftover food from restaurants and grocery stores before it’s thrown away.
Showing up and cooking can be the tricky part. Seeds of Peace once helped make fry bread in 30-mile-per-hour winds during Arizona’s Big Mountain Spring Healing Camp, a 40-year-long protest against coal mining, which SOP has supported for more than 20. In 2008 they had to feed thousands of protesters marching with Veterans Against the War, all while keeping 20-gallon pots of rice cooking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another time, they prepared all the meals, including huckleberry pancakes, over a single coal fire.
But no matter how difficult the challenge, volunteer groups press on, because resistance food, at its core, is all about what a meal represents. “Feeding people is an act of love, and food doesn’t need to be complicated to be satisfying,” Turshen says. It can be as simple as a bean salad thrown together for a crowd, and it’s all about bringing people together. “One of the easiest ways to create community is with food.”
Julia Turshen’s Greek Chickpea Salad
This dish is perfect when you’re craving something healthy but don’t want to turn on the stove or do more than 10 minutes of prep. It’s best eaten right away, when everything is crunchy and fresh, but it can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. Serve over greens or with toasted pita for more heft.
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar1/4 cup olive oil1 garlic clove, minced1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed1 tsp. dried oregano, rubbed between your fingertipsOne 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained1 medium English cucumber, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into bite-size wedges (or 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes)1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese1/2 cup green or black olives
Place the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and oregano in a large bowl and whisk well to combine. Add the chickpeas, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and tomatoes, and mix gently to combine. Add salt to taste, and top with the feta and olives.