Recipes and Resistance: How Black Food Bloggers Club Created a Space for Conscious Food Nerds

We spoke with founder Jasmine Lukuku about creating communities for people of colour in food and jetting off to Ecuador to find the perfect chocolate.

It’s no secret that people of colour are at a lesser advantage within the food industry. Non-white writers are largely confined to communicating about food of their own heritage, whereas white writers are given the opportunity to weigh in on all types of cuisines, even if they may not necessarily be distinguished in those areas. 

Raised in North America to Zambian and Irish-Canadian parents, conscious food blogger Jasmine Lukuku aims to empower the black community through her brainchild, Black Food Bloggers Club, which exists on her site The Blenderist and Instagram page, @blackfoodbloggers. Consulting with small businesses and exposing cooking professionals to one another, she’s created channels that share their resources to boost the success of those who are affiliated. We sat down with her to talk jetting off to Ecuador to find the perfect chocolate, resisting guilt-tripping vocabulary and making the transition from fashion to food to support a cause close to her heart.

Jasmine Lukuku via The Blenderist

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey Jasmine! Your educational background is in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising, yet you’ve landed in the culinary business. How did that happen?

Jasmine Lukuku: I’ve worked in the fashion industry in one way or another for most of my adult life. I started out in retail at Betsey Johnson when I was 18, then moved into wholesale and later ended up working in fashion college admissions. I loved working with the creative people that the fashion industry attracts, but I eventually burned out. The industry wasn’t making me happy anymore.

Meanwhile, my interest in food and cooking was increasing. I decided to start a blog as a hobby and creative outlet. After learning a little bit about food photography and basic web design, I was hooked. I saved up some money and took the leap into a new career. It was scary at first, but it has worked out well.

You’ve hinted that there is more of a positive community within the food rather than fashion industry. How so?

When I worked in retail, I had a very hard time listening to other women speak about their bodies in a negative way. It felt really toxic. The body positive movement was not nearly as visible as it is today. It was hard to be surrounded by that type of negative talk everyday.

I’ve had a better experience in the food and wine industry. The community I’ve built feels more inclusive.

Having personally tasted your delightful Zambian donuts with Jameson Irish Whiskey caramel sauce, does taking inspiration from traditional foods and integrating it into your cooking happen often?

I love to bake, but baking is not a big part of the Zambian traditional food lexicon. Since I grew up in Vancouver, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of Asian cuisines and those influences find their way into many of my dishes.

Ultimately, I’m looking for flavour combinations that light me up with excitement and that means embracing a variety of world foods.

You’ve been flown out to Ecuador to taste the best chocolate out there! That sounds like what dreams are made of. Tell us more.

I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship through Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization dedicated to helping women in culinary careers. The scholarship made it possible for me to take a trip to Ecuador to see how cacao is grown and processed into chocolate, right from bean to bar. It was an amazing experience that gave me a better understanding of how special chocolate is as a food. The amount of labour and expertise that goes into creating quality chocolate is mind-blowing.

Your partner’s father has been a chocolatier for over 30 years himself. Did his influence attract you to the craft chocolate field?

Absolutely! Tasting a variety of great chocolate with my partner and his family really opened my eyes. I had no idea how complex it was until I sat down and started talking about it with people who knew more than me. Once my interest is piqued, I tend to go in deep and try to learn as much as I can.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re looking into becoming a wine tasting expert, too.

I do have fantasies of becoming a world-renowned wine expert, but right now I’m an educated consumer. I’ve started my studies with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and I’m hoping to continue all the way through to diploma level, and then go on to tackle the Master of Wine program. Fingers crossed!

Photo by Avneet Takhar

What is your reasoning behind creating a food blogging platform for a black audience, specifically?

One day, I was scrolling through my Instagram and felt disheartened by the lack of black food bloggers I saw on my feed. I decided I could complain about it or I could seek them out. I started an Instagram account called @blackfoodbloggers to curate content from black food bloggers. My goal was to make it easy for other people to find the talent I was discovering. Since then, it has blossomed into a private community of 400+ black food bloggers and food writers. I’m really excited to see the group evolve!

Do you ever worry that honing in on a particular market detracts from a wider following?

Nope, not at all. On the surface, our group is producing quality food content that can be enjoyed by anyone. So, an element of what we do is universal.

In the private group of bloggers, I stay focused on a particular group because that group is often ignored and under-represented. By focusing on a specific community, I’ve been able to build connections and source opportunities that would not exist if I was trying to help everyone.

What hurdles have you come across as a black food blogger?

I am one of the privileged few who has access to tools and resources that have made it easy for me. The main thing I’ve noticed is that I’m often the only (black) one in the room and that makes you feel like ‘the other’. You really feel it when you go to food blogging conferences.

You look at all the bloggers who have landed book deals or reached a really high level of recognition and you will find very few at the conferences that are P.O.C. It doesn’t add up when you see how many great black food bloggers there are out there.

So I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m up against hurdles, but I see where the food media could be doing better.

Food language is something you are mindful of and advocate keeping away from sexual, racial and guilt-laden connotations. Other writers use these forms of expression and seem to attract readers, so why steer clear?

I try to be mindful of my language when I’m writing about food. I don’t want to contribute to anyone’s anxiety around eating by using words that moralize food. So you won’t see me describing food as ‘clean’, ‘guilt-free’, ’indulgent’ or other loaded terms. I’m not going to tell you when you should or shouldn’t eat that cookie!

The problem with this is, sometimes you are at odds with recommended SEOs. A lot of people are googling, for example, ‘healthy smoothie recipe.’ If I refuse to use the word ‘healthy’, I’m running the risk of losing out to that potential audience.

I also try to be more conscious about describing dishes from different cultures—to be specific rather than general. So, if it is a Japanese-style salad dressing I will call it that rather than an Asian salad dressing.

And as for sexual terms, I just find them corny!

What are the ins and outs of The Blenderist?

Right now, the site is in a transitional phase. When I started out, it was just my recipes. I’m now shifting to a multi-contributor type site where I feature other black food bloggers. This transition started when I realized how much joy I get from helping other bloggers succeed. So I work with the bloggers in my private group and then feature them on the blog.

What’s been the most empowering story you’ve heard from someone who’s used the services of The Blenderist?

The members of my group are doing so many awesome things that I can’t take credit for; they have earned it themselves. However, I’m very proud that I was able to facilitate a pilot project with black media organization Atlanta Black Star. For this project, I helped connect members of the group with opportunities to contribute to recipes and other food content. I hope to do more work like this in the future, connecting talented folks with people searching for talent. It is empowering when my community is acknowledged for their skills!

What would you say to a young, black person who wants to break into the cookery world?

Carve your own path. If you are passionate about working in kitchens and feeding people, that is one way to build a food career — but it is not the only way. There are so many ways you can be a part of the food world.

Your career may shift several times as you mature. That is totally normal. Look to kind mentors along the way for guidance.

Thanks, Jasmine!