Barbara Bates Center Seminar Series

Even the Bread Was White: Race, Space, and the Transformation of Fast Food Over the 20th Century

Speaker: Naa Oyo Kwate, PhD, Rutgers University
Date + Time: Wednesday, February 15, 2023, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, EST
Location: Virtual, on BlueJeans

Abstract: In what is now an abundant literature, public health researchers have documented a disproportionate density of fast food in African American communities, a pattern that is not attributable to income or other population characteristics. And, because other studies have linked neighborhood exposure to fast food with obesity and other chronic disease, Black communities appear to be at greater risk for these negative outcomes. But how did these patterns come to pass? Fast food has undergone a complete inversion from its historical origins serving urban White workers and middle-class White suburban families to become synonymous with urban Black space. This talk examines the ways in which fast food, America’s “national meal,” has shifted from its position of jealously guarded Whiteness and wholesome leisure to gauche, homogenized, anachronistic—and Black.

Bio: Naa Oyo A. Kwate is an interdisciplinary social scientist with wide ranging interests in racial inequality and African American health. Currently a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, she is an associate professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, jointly appointed in the Department of Africana Studies and the Department of Human Ecology. A psychologist by training, her research has centered on the ways in which urban built environments reflect and create racial inequalities in the United States, and how racism directly and indirectly affects African American health. Kwate’s research has been funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and by fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, the European Institutes for Advanced Studies, and others. She is the author of White Burgers, Black Cash: Fast Food from Black Exclusion to Exploitation, forthcoming in April 2023 at the University of Minnesota Press.

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