In Maya-Camille Broussard’s eyes, a lot of the looting going on right now is actually a cry for help.
“If you look at what’s been hit hardest by looters, it’s grocery stores,” she says. “Grocery stores are getting absolutely cleaned out.”
Barren aisles. Stolen product. Where some might see base opportunists and thieves, Maya sees the aftermath of a struggling, desperate people trying to get food by whatever means necessary. She sees the root cause of all this. It has a name.
“Food insecurity refers to a problem where families don’t have consistent access to quality, nutritional food,” Maya says.
It is rampant in communities of color. According to data courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “approximately 12.3% or 15.6 million households in the United States were food insecure at least some time during the last year.” And while total levels of food insecurity have fluctuated over the past 20 years, “one trend that has continued to persist is the gap in the prevalence of food insecurity between people of color and whites,” according to USDA research.
Maya says COVID-19 has turned Chicago’s food insecurity problem into a nightmare.
“That’s why I can’t really blame some of the looting,” she says. “It’s a necessity for some of these people that may have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and are having an even harder time putting food on the table than before (when they were already food insecure).”
Maya has fought food insecurity in Chicago for years. Her method of choice? Pie.
Maya is something like pie royalty. Her late father, Stephen J. Broussard, was a criminal defense attorney and an avid baker, proclaiming himself the “Pie Master” back in his time. When he passed away, Maya created Justice of the Pies, a bakery specializing in pies of all forms, both sweet and savory, as well as quiches and tarts.
“To be honest, I was always more of a cake person, though,” she says with a laugh.
But Maya doesn’t just carry on her father’s legacy as a pie connoisseur. She wants to use her craft to positively impact her community, too. Enter: the I KNEAD LOVE youth workshop she hosts in partnership with DreamOn Education.
“We bring in kids, grades five through eight,” Maya says, “to teach them culinary skills and educate them about nutrition. Because once they can take care of that basic physiological need to feed themselves healthy food, then they’re able to be more successful in the classroom and those sorts of things.”
“We want to show our kids that there are options beyond just going to the corner store to buy a bag of Takis and a can of orange pop,” she says.
Maya admits she herself enjoys the occasional Takis and orange soda combo. But her mission is to equip the next generation with the life skills to overcome food insecurity.
That’s of even more importance with the COVID-19 crisis driving unemployment rates through the roof and shutting down local restaurants. The pandemic also means Maya can’t host workshops in person anymore, so she’s moved her efforts to YouTube, for now.
“The week after quarantine took place, we were supposed to activate a workshop but had to cancel, for good reason,” Maya says. “That was frustrating, though, to have everything planned and ready to go. But I’m creating videos on YouTube with those workshop plans giving lessons on how to cut a pineapple, easy pasta dishes, that sort of thing.”
Maya says she’ll continue with her video content but hopes that next year, if there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, the I KNEAD LOVE workshop can return in full force.
In the meantime, she’s working with Frontline Foods to serve meals to hospital workers battling the novel coronavirus outbreak, which will likely spike again in the coming weeks. But Maya hopes people seeking to help will shift some of their aid to food insecure communities, too.
“We want to continue feeding frontline workers, our doctors and nurses, especially with a second wave coming with all the protests,” she says. “But I think the focus should also shift to families struggling with food insecurity, especially the children.”
Maya has momentum right now. #BlackLivesMatter has become a worldwide movement, and she is seeing an influx of new followers as a result. She welcomes the newcomers as long as they’re genuine about their support and not just seeking social brownie points.
“I’m on a lot of lists now, a lot of “black-owned bakeries to support” lists,” she says. “All of a sudden, people want to talk to me. People want to work with me. But what was wrong with me before? What was wrong with us before? Please don’t let this just be a trend. Don’t use us as a token to pat yourself on the back.”
Supporting #BlackLivesMatter is about more than protest attendance. It’s about addressing the issues that make the movement necessary in the first place. It’s about understanding the link between looting and black and Hispanic communities devastated by food insecurity. It’s about locating and eradicating the viruses plaguing communities of color long before COVID-19 existed.
It’s about being in that fight for the long haul.