The vision for Alana Chandler’s project crystalized while she was still in high school. At the time, she was part of a research initiative for a large Jewish organization and was tasked with creating a project related to social justice and the Jewish community of Chicago. But what began as a high-school project grew into something much larger. Now Chandler is creating Tlaim: The Patchwork Cookbook to compile recipes and histories of Jews of Color.
Unique recipes that honor intersecting identities and backgrounds are a recognized staple in the Jews of Color community. In fact, when Angel Alvarez-Mapp and Ginna Green discussed this at our launch event for Beyond the Count, the Zoom chat was suddenly bursting with lists of dishes from Jews of Color in attendance. This concept is also central to renowned chef and culinary historian Michael Twitty, who melds Jewish and African-American traditions with what he terms “identity cooking.”
Alana Chandler’s choice to create a cookbook came after careful consideration. Chandler considered a book of essays but wanted something that could easily fit into the existing structure of peoples’ lives. “There’s so much energy required for someone to sit down and read something really dense,” Chandler began. “But food? Food is something everyone needs to live. And not only is it necessary sustenance, but there’s so much culture and tradition infused into recipes. Recipes really tell a story.”
Chandler and her team believe that because of the cultural richness of recipes, “food can be the gateway to discussing both the beauties and challenges that Jews of Color face.”
As Chandler set out to develop her project and her team, she wanted to ensure that her cookbook would convey the diversity among Jews of Color. “I only represent the experience of one person and I wanted to make sure the cookbook was capturing the experience of many. I’m an Asian Jew and I wanted non-Asian Jews of Color to also work on the cookbook.” Though primarily driven by volunteer efforts, Chandler’s team is committed to creating content that depicts the wide range of experiences and backgrounds among Jews of Color.
“I want this physical representation of the unity and solidarity of Jews’ of Color stories,” Chandler explained. “Even though we all have different backgrounds, we’re united in our non-white identities as well. There is something we share.” This is also reflected in the cookbook’s name, Tlaim, which is Hebrew for patches or patchwork.
Chandler believes that a cookbook can be much more than a list of recipes. While the book will also incorporate writing and photographs that bring to life the stories behind each recipe, the existence of such a book could also be impactful on the community.
“The grand vision is that you walk into a bookstore and if they have a Jewish cookbook section, there is a Jews of Color cookbook on the shelf. We see European Jewish recipes, Israeli cookbooks, but not specifically a Jews of Color cookbook. I want this physical representation of the unity and solidarity of Jews’ of Color stories.”
Chandler admitted that seeing a book like this could have made a difference in her own experience, and she hopes it does so for others. “The goal is to have Jews of Color who might feel isolated or ostracized feel represented in this cookbook. I didn’t grow up with a Jews of Color community, I didn’t even know these spaces existed. So, seeing a cookbook like this could help others realize, ‘oh I really do belong, and others like me really do exist’ and hopefully help them feel a little less alone. Beyond that, we can begin to celebrate our marginalized identities.”
The Tlaim Jews of Color Cookbook also is a point of learning for those in the Jewish community who are not People of Color. “For non-JoC Jews, we hope it evokes meaningful changes in their perspectives. Food is interesting. You might really like the food of a certain culture but still harbor prejudices against that culture. We recognize cookbooks aren’t a miracle band-aid, but that’s the intention of having the stories alongside the recipes. It’s not just a recipe; it’s something that humanizes the people who create those recipes.”
Tlaim: The Patchwork Cookbook is currently accepting submissions! Visit their website to learn more and submit your own recipe.