Meet the Nebraska nonprofit cooking up community through the power of food
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
<blockquote>“If you like somebody’s food, it’s hard to hate them.”</blockquote><figure><img alt="" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1024/1*3lQC-nR4kzZrRk9LK5f16Q.jpeg" /><figcaption>Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore (center) stands with students of the 2022 Immigrant Culinary Integration program.</figcaption></figure><p>Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore has spent his life loving food. Born in the West African nation of Togo, he learned to cook with his family, following in the footsteps of a great grandfather who deviated from tradition and welcomed his own son into the kitchen.</p><p>As an adult, Jamil moved to the US to study and work in finance. After a decade in the field, he pivoted, returning to his love of food and entering the hospitality industry. Once there, however, he found decision-makers reluctant to incorporate African cuisine into the world of fine dining. Jamil was determined to make a change. He started <a href="https://houseofbah.com/">his own catering company</a> — focused exclusively on African cuisine — and eventually founded a food-oriented nonprofit, <a href="https://www.eatntalkafrica.com/">Eat N’ Talk Africa</a>.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.neighbornetwork.io/">Hello Neighbor Network</a> is proud to call Jamil a member. The following article presents excerpts from our interview* with Jamil and profiles the life-changing work of Eat N’ Talk Africa.</p><figure><img alt="" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1024/1*m6F9GFqGKtL1ON8zbtAKhg.jpeg" /><figcaption>Students of Eat N’ Talk Africa’s Immigrant Culinary Integration program absorb the expertise of their instructor, Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore.</figcaption></figure><p><strong>Q: What about food motivates you and fuels your passion?</strong></p><blockquote>Jamil: “Food is an easy connector. Food is what brings people together…When I entered the professional [hospitality] field and saw that [African cuisine] was missing, it became a tool for me to bring the community together, to reach goals that all of us want to reach. Everybody in every circle talks about diversity, inclusion, equality, but we don’t know how to sit down and start the conversation. What better way to get us together than food?</blockquote><blockquote>Because if you like somebody’s food, it’s hard to hate them. You cannot hate somebody if you like their food. So food can bridge gaps in communities, food can break walls, food can teach culture, can enlighten you, can open up your eyes, can make you see the world, can make you see people…[W]e all eat. We all like good food, so when somebody offers you a meal, you see yourself in it, they see themselves in it. You realize that we’re all just human beings, we’re all just one people.”</blockquote><p><strong>Q: Eat N’ Talk Africa runs the </strong><a href="https://www.eatntalkafrica.com/copy-of-fostering-connection-to-afric"><strong>Immigrant Culinary Integration</strong></a><strong> program for recently-arrived refugees and immigrants, ‘facilitat[ing] their culinary integration into American society and thus help[ing] them live healthier lives and sustain economic and social development in our communities.’ Can you tell us more about this program and its participants?</strong></p><blockquote>Jamil: “Having been an immigrant myself, I know that when you come to this country, you’re lost, it’s hard, you don’t find yourself. [One of the] easiest ways for people to express themselves is through food, so [the Immigrant Culinary Integration program] is the basis to give them something that they can relate to…Because that’s the first thing that comforts people. It’s a launching pad. Beyond that, we have all the programs in connection with [our partner organization] <a href="https://nmepomaha.org/">No More Empty Pots</a> which actually allow them to earn a culinary certificate that propels them into entrepreneurship.</blockquote><blockquote>…We have a waiting list for the Immigrant Culinary Integration program. [The 2022 program included] ten ladies from Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela. It just baffled me that something that I thought was just a dream in my head actually was realized because people were really in need of it. The comfort that these ladies felt — some arrived one month ago, some arrived two months ago, and some of them don’t even work yet — from sharing recipes from around the world, it’s just beautiful. And then all of them used this like therapy, and as an opportunity also to learn about American food and American food culture and the hospitality culture in America. We give them hope and we give them a path towards something.</blockquote><blockquote>[I was also] able to take these ladies to offer an international breakfast in a community that was historically white, at an institution that was historically white, and it blew peoples’ minds…[We’re] showing people that you can also have this type of food in a fine dining setting. That’s what it’s about. Because most often, we keep some people in some lanes and then we think that they don’t belong here…because it’s not done or it hasn’t been done before. I think what we’re trying to do is show people in Omaha — and, you know, why not everywhere — that Syrian, Ukrainian, Sudanese, Venezuelan…this ethnic culinary heritage [can] also be front and center.”</blockquote><figure><img alt="" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1024/1*4zQ1BNTp8Q0yBELCCagMHA.jpeg" /><figcaption>A student in the 2022 Immigrant Culinary Integration program engages in hands-on learning at the No More Empty Pots kitchen.</figcaption></figure><p><strong>Q: Also housed at Eat N’ Talk Africa is the </strong><a href="https://www.eatntalkafrica.com/projects-8"><strong>African Culinary Academy</strong></a><strong>, a 6–8 week internship program designed to introduce the Greater African Diaspora to African cuisine and heritage. Interns attend a 6–8 week ‘course on African Culinary Heritage[, learning] about the five African culinary regions and pick[ing] up career-oriented work experience from skilled African Chefs.’ Can you tell us more about this program?</strong></p><blockquote>Jamil: “The African Culinary Academy is focused on teaching anybody of African descent and anybody else who wants to learn about [African] cuisine. [The Academy] is an opportunity for them to learn about African culinary heritage.</blockquote><blockquote>…[The Academy] was designed specifically to focus on one area of the world that is part of the American history but is forgotten. Because of the historical slavery, the connection between Africa and America, you’d think they would know more about African food. Yes, Southern food, soul food is African food, but people don’t know them as [African food]. And [African food] doesn’t make it to fine dining or catering. That’s what this program is there for.”</blockquote><figure><img alt="" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1024/1*vbw4VXbCWAknOnabYZcXBg.jpeg" /><figcaption>Jamil guides two students in the 2022 African Culinary Academy program.</figcaption></figure><p><strong>Q: Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?</strong></p><blockquote>Jamil: “A lot of people ask me, ‘why don’t you just go open a restaurant?’ Listen, that’s not just who I want to be. It’s not going to change the world, it’s not going to make a difference if I’m just in a corner somewhere. I want to multiply me, you know, I want to see 10,000 Jamils, Jamilas doing this so it will be different. So that’s what we’re trying to do right here. We want to impact the community, but also we want to empower community members who want to be in this field to become those professionals that can make the change. So that’s what we’re going to do.”</blockquote><h3>Support Eat N’ Talk Africa</h3><p>Eat N’ Talk Africa hopes to continue its Immigrant Culinary Integration and African Culinary Academy programs in 2023, but they need your support to do so. <a href="https://www.paypal.com/donate?hosted_button_id=VEJ2UW6D66Q9Y">Donate</a> and <a href="https://www.eatntalkafrica.com/support-us">get involved</a> today.</p><p>Visit the web and read more about <a href="https://www.eatntalkafrica.com/who-we-are">Eat N’ Talk Africa</a>, as well as their partners <a href="https://nmepomaha.org/">No More Empty Pots</a> and <a href="https://www.refugeewomenrising.org/">Refugee Women Rising</a>.</p><p>*Interview edited for length and clarity.</p><blockquote>This article was written by <strong>Kate Greuel</strong>, the Hello Neighbor Network’s 2022–2023 academic year intern. Kate is a master’s student studying Social Work and Public & International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.</blockquote><figure><img alt="" src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/202/0*th04jAz46YsAj2Rk.png" /></figure><p>Learn more about the <a href="https://www.neighbornetwork.io/">Hello Neighbor Network</a>. The Hello Neighbor Network accepts applications for Fellows every fall. <a href="http://eepurl.com/hnAmkT">Sign up for our newsletter</a> to be the first to know when applications open.</p><img src="https://medium.com/_/stat?event=post.clientViewed&referrerSource=full_rss&postId=2d35f10e9112" width="1" height="1" alt=""><hr><p><a href="https://medium.com/hello-neighbor-network/meet-the-nebraska-nonprofit-cooking-up-community-through-the-power-of-food-2d35f10e9112">Meet the Nebraska nonprofit cooking up community through the power of food</a> was originally published in <a href="https://medium.com/hello-neighbor-network">Hello Neighbor Network</a> on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.</p>
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