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Since Tuesday’s election results came in, I have been feeling as if someone I loved deeply died.
I am married to an immigrant, father to a multiracial son, and friend or relative of countless people of diverse skin colors, religious beliefs, countries of origin, gender identities, and sexual orientations. I am afraid for all of us, but especially for minority populations who already face discrimination and degradation.
I am not alone in my grief.
Last night’s annual Capital Food Fight to raise money for DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) felt like the party your dear friend insists you throw for them after they die. Play loud music, drink a lot, and don’t wallow in misery. It felt like everyone I talked with was trying their best to make this happen at the fundraiser, which pits chefs against one another.
We all were grateful to see each other, appreciative of the emotional support, and happy to have a chance to distract ourselves from the news, but every interaction was tainted with the understanding that we had all lost something precious. There was a sense that everything had suddenly changed, but we didn’t know how yet.
People kept asking each other, “How are you doing?” That’s what people ask at funerals. Hospitality professionals who pride themselves on being able to put on warm, welcoming faces no matter the circumstances seemed to crumble as they responded:
“I still can’t believe it.”
“Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life.”
“I’m truly afraid.”
People gave hugs freely. Alcohol was a welcome safety blanket.
But as I talked with friends and colleagues, I began to find solace. Members of the wider restaurant community—the chefs, bar staff, and front-of-the-housers to the publicists, product vendors, and food writers who cover this scene—generally accept people for who they are, no matter what.
Restaurants take in those who have been turned away from other industries and communities. The food industry gives many people an avenue to success that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Its diversity knows no bounds, and that is one of its greatest strengths. Look into kitchens and dining rooms and you’ll see a global panoply showcasing every combination of race, color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, and age all working together. In this world, you are judged by your work and your merits.
Is it perfect? No. There are still “-isms” at play in restaurants, just like everywhere else. But, taken as a whole, this community offers inclusion and acceptance.
Up on stage last night, event co-hostJosé Andrés did his best to bring levity to the evening, as a passionate advocate for DCCK’s meaningful work. But it must have been hard for him since he has been on the front line this election cycle, standing up to Trump in a principled way. He put a lot on the line personally, and for the restaurant empire he has helped build, so he will probably face some tough times ahead. I hope the restaurant community stands by him through it all.
Frankly, there are going to be some dark days ahead for all of us. Washingtonians in the restaurant community are going to have to get through them together in an intensely personal way, and on a daily basis. The District is going to become the base of operations for the Trump administration, all its hangers-on, and the multitude of vile, discriminatory beliefs some will bring with them.
In the meantime, we should not forget who we are, what we believe in, or the world we want to shape for future generations and ourselves. We should take every opportunity to change those with exclusionary ideologies who sit down at our tables and in our bar seats, even if by simply showing love in the face of hate. We need to be proud of who we are, and unafraid to show it. We need to stand up for anyone in our community, and beyond, who feels threatened or is attacked by the policies and actions of this incoming administration.