Discomfort food: Where you pay more if you’re white
If nothing else, this New Orleans pop-up restaurant provides food for thought
A social experiment aimed at addressing racial wealth disparity has just been concluded in New Orleans: a pop-up restaurant called Saartj, conceived by chef Tunde Wey.
Guests place their order from a Nigerian-inspired menu and the experiment begins. Food justice advocates Civil Eats describe the process: “After they order, Wey tells each diner about the nation’s racial wealth gap, and then presents his guests with two options: White customers can either pay $12 for lunch or the suggested price of $30. Black customers are charged $12 and also given the option to collect the $18 paid by a white patron as a way to redistribute wealth.”The pop-up was named after South Africa’s own Saartjie Baartman. Wey sees Baartman’s story as a way to “highlight the views and perspectives of erstwhile marginalised people and positions and to bring those to light”.
Wey said the question he was asked most often was: “Where does the additional money that I’m paying go?” He says this highlights a bigger problem with wealth and money.“The act of finding a solution shouldn’t be charity-based or altruistic,” he said. But for white people to conflate giving with altruism “is mistakenly making your wealth virtuous. The ownership of wealth has been contingent on taking from someone else, and money doesn’t distill virtue on you.”
Wealth, he added, is merely a conduit for power, and when we think of it that way we’re able to see why redistribution is important. “You cannot transfer money without transferring the agency that comes with it,” he said.
The results of the experiment were that 80% of white diners elected to pay $30, while 76% of black diners refused to take the $18 they were offered. Wey said: “Black people have even tried to pay the $30,” but he refused the offers.This is Wey’s third project which addresses inequality in the US. In 2016 he hosted a series of dinners called “Blackness in America”, which provided an opportunity for people to come together over dinner and discuss the intersection between blackness and their work and lives. He then hosted 1882, a dinner which explored anti-immigrant attitudes in the US, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Last year he held 4:44, which considered racial wealth disparities and their impact on the food systems.