Smithsonian’s New “Cooking Up History” Series Explores How Women Chefs Sustain Their Communities Through Activism and Advocacy

Series Underscores Female Leadership and Changemaking
February 3, 2022
Headshots of three women juxtaposed in greyscale

This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and the Smithsonian Associates will offer a three-part “Cooking Up History” series. Between February and May, “Food for the People: Women Sustaining Communities in Greater Washington,” will feature free streaming programs to highlight the work of local women chefs to achieve food justice and community empowerment in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Drawing from the Anacostia Community Museum’s new exhibition, “Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington,” and the “FOOD: Transforming the American Table” exhibition at the American History Museum, this series focuses on women’s roles as changemakers and community leaders throughout history and during recent challenges.

Providing fresh insights into American culture, past and present, through the lens of food, each program will feature a guest chef and a Smithsonian host as they prepare a recipe and explore the history and tradition behind its ingredients, culinary techniques and community meaning. Throughout the event, the featured speakers will also shed light on their personal stories, activism and advocacy. Viewers can discover how food lies at the heart of cultural identities and can be used to communicate fundamental values of racial and social justice. Recipes will be shared in advance so the audience can follow along.

“Gathering around the proverbial table, digital audiences will hear firsthand from guest chefs about the dishes that inform their identity as well as the ways they are creating more inclusive, equitable and sustainable communities through food,” said Ashley Rose Young, food historian at the American History Museum. “This series is unique, as Smithsonian staff from three units collaborated

with guest chefs to create each program, contributing diverse perspectives to discuss crucial interconnected issues—racism, food insecurity and cultural sustainability, and tie those back to Smithsonian collections and exhibitions.” Registration for the programs is required; more information is available at the Smithsonian Associates.

Programs Details

· Tuesday, Feb. 22, Black History Month: “Bakers Against Racism: The Power of Community Activism Through Food,” with guest chef Paola Velez, pastry chef and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, from 6:45–8:15 p.m. Velez makes one of her favorite recipes from her home kitchen that reflects and embodies her identity as an Afro-Latina chef rooted in her family’s Dominican heritage. She will discuss her organizing efforts through Bakers Against Racism, an international movement that swept across social media in 2020, and her belief that no matter how small, every effort counts—including small-scale bake sales—in raising awareness to end racism. The program is free, but registration is required.

· Tuesday, March 15, Women’s History Month: “Food Knowledge is Power: How to Eat Well on a Budget,” with guest chef Juliet “JuJu” Harris, culinary educator and gardener, from 6:45–8:15 p.m. Harris will demonstrate that healthy eating does not need to be expensive, time-consuming, or difficult. While she prepares a recipe, she will also shed light on the food insecurity that many Washington residents face and how organizations and educators are working with community members to build a healthier and more equitable and just food system. The program is free, but registration is required.

· Tuesday, May 10, Asian American Heritage Month: “Food for the Body and Soul: Advocating for Community through Culinary Traditions,” with guest chef Janet Yu, chef and restaurant owner, from 6:45–8:15 p.m. Yu, owner of Hollywood East Café in Silver Spring, Maryland, will share stories and prepare recipes from her home kitchen that draw upon her family’s Cantonese culture. Yu will speak about her work preserving and sharing Chinese food culture in the Greater Washington area and how doing so is a vital form of advocacy. She will also speak about her role as a mentor and the ways mentorship can maintain cultural bonds and identities as well as empower a new generation of chefs, cooks and food entrepreneurs. The program is free, but registration is required.

This Cooking Up History Series received support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

About the “Food for the People” Exhibition

Across the nation and the Washington region, a staggering number of people struggle to find their very next meal despite an overabundance of food. The Anacostia Community Museum’s powerful exhibition, with outdoor and indoor components, asks people to confront this reality. It explores the historical and present-day inequities faced by the laborers who produce, process and serve the nation’s food—from farm to table—and highlights the essential work they do, particularly in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The lead sponsor for this exhibition is Events DC, the supporting sponsor is the Hillside Foundation—Allen & Shelley Holt, and additional support is provided by The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

About the National Museum of American History

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open Friday through Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, and passes are not required. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, K–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

About the Anacostia Community Museum

Established in 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum examines the impact of contemporary social issues on urban communities. The museum is located at 1901 Fort Pl. S.E. Visit for information on visiting the museum and participating in public programs during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About the Smithsonian Associates

For over 55 years, Smithsonian Associates—the world’s largest museum-based education program—has produced vibrant educational and cultural programming that brings the Smithsonian to life. Inspired by the Smithsonian’s research, collections and exhibitions nearly 1,000 public programs spark creativity and excite learning in people of all ages each year.

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