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Climate Cafe: Dr. Joseph Ewoodzie Explores Food, Race, and Class Through Storytelling

In his research process, Ewoodzie ate with people of different socio-economic classes, which he said was beneficial to his process.
COURTESY OF DEREK CURTIS

In his research process, Ewoodzie ate with people of different socio-economic classes, which he said was beneficial to his process.

Dr. Joseph Ewoodzie visited Andover to discuss the intersections between the climate crisis and marginalized populations. On April 6, students gathered in the library to listen to Ewoodzie, an ethnographer and author—his most recent book being Getting Something to Eat in Jackson: Race, Class, and Food in the American South.

Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC) Chief Student Coordinator, Frank Zhou ’22, explained the Academy’s thought process in inviting Ewoodzie to speak. He felt that Ewoodzie’s work resembled the general trend of other speakers Climate Cafe has hosted in the past.

“The Climate Cafe Speaker Series is brought in alongside academics… If you look through the past slate of Climate Cafe speakers, we’re looking for speakers who can speak to their deeply academic work in a way that is accessible… Dr. Moomaw was one of them, as is Dr. Ewoodzie, for sure. That’s sort of a line that we’re going to, he’s an academic and a long string of academics in the climate cafes have hosted,” said Zhou.

PASC student coordinator Alice Fan ’23 recalled Ewoodzie’s findings about people’s relationship with food to vary by financial class. Fan connected the nature of Ewoodzie’s research to the polarization of climate change today.

“[Dr. Ewoodzie] compared how homeless people thought about food versus how upper middle class, Black folks thought about food… and how they perceive food. I think broadly on climate change, I mean, there’s so much media and political polarization on climate change, so bridging that gap and really relying on research academia, and just statistics and science in general to create climate solutions is the best way and really not all the rhetoric that is out there,” said Fan.

Zhou added that Ewoodzie’s presentation of his research introduced a more personal side to the climate crisis. In his presentation, Ewoodzie examined how climate change impedes lower income communities’ access to food. Through storytelling, Zhou believes that Ewoodzie opened up the conversation to a culture and socio-economic class.

“Dr. Ewoodzie [is] an ethnographer, which means that he’s essentially telling stories and weaving those stories with academic theories to show how theories manifest in personal stories. And so, you know, culture wise, he looked at different sorts of folks up and down the socio economic spectrum, in the American South. And so you have some people for whom culture means being able to sit or sit and tell stories of your times in and out of the incarceration system. For others, it means being able to mix and match different dishes, upscale restaurants, you know, to be able to make a dish that appeals to you. There are different cultural manifestations that make for good storytelling fodder, and sort of inject the color and substance and body into experiences. So, you know, Dr. Ewoodzie, if anything in the way that he writes his book in a sort of deeply narrative voice he tries to get right,” said Zhou.

Similarly, attendee and Co-Head of Andover Climate Lobby Suhaila Cotton ’24 noted the honesty Ewoodzie employed throughout his presentation. She appreciated Ewoodzie’s storytelling ability in conveying his message.

“What stuck with me most from Dr. Ewoodzie’s talk was not just his [analysis] of food and blackness and class but his reasoning for the importance of telling the stories of the people he met. He did on the ground research and when exploring food and class, he ate with higher class people and lower class people and [told] the story of some of the homeless people he talked to. He was real with us, explaining how he did benefit so much more from telling their stories than they did but he also explained how much power there is in storytelling and having at least some bit of your life recorded for history,” said Cotton.

Echoing Cotton’s sentiments, Zhou also admired the personal delivery of Ewoodzie’s research. He felt it was more accessible and easy to digest for the audience.

“It was just a wonderful exercise in realizing how deeply intertwined storytelling can be with the climate crisis and how you can incorporate academia in a way that is accessible. He offers a sort of model to deconstruct a lot of the things that you assume about academia [when] it’s either technical, super hard to understand, not tethered enough to stories, like these are all sort of critiques of social science, academia in particular. And Dr. Ewoodzie sort of turned all that on his head, and it was a brilliant presentation, very story driven and very riveting,” said Zhou.