Conversations with Parker Johnson
We are thrilled to introduce you to Parker, who created Table Talk and uses it to create community, prioritize marginalized voices, and share good food. Continue reading to learn more about Table Talk, why Parker thinks it is important to share food at these events, and his earliest food related memory.
Please start by telling us a bit about yourself, and Table Talk.
My name is Parker; I’m an African American adoptee, from Savannah, Georgia. I grew up on Vancouver Island. I’m a psychology student, and youth support worker. Helping kids on the frontline, in group homes and out in the community.
I created a platform called the Table almost a year ago. I utilize an Indigenous mechanism that promotes communal education. I am doing my part as an adopted settler, to decolonize conversation. My hope is to help communities remember that they have a voice. That the act of being relational, and trauma informed, helps us reconnect to each other, and the lands we reside on. The simple act of breaking bread and sharing stories has historically brought us together. This is my motivation: food, discussion, and relationships.
The format of Table Talk seems very intentional. Tell us about why you decided to structure it as you did. What do you think it is about a kitchen table that evokes community and story sharing?
The kitchen table facilitates conversation. The hope is, to simulate a felt sense of being home, safely. Everyone at the table is participating in the same thing: eating, sharing, and listening. At the Table events, those seated at the Table are speaking, but are surrounded by a listening circle, and when you are done speaking at the Table, you trade places with someone from the listening circle. Using this mechanism helps to decolonize our conversation.
You always arrange food for the attendees of Table Talk. Why is that important to you?
It’s a big ask to have people participate in a table–to be vulnerable and share their perspective. Food is essentially nourishment for this process. As well, it is structured like a kitchen table, and families meet at the table, conversations occur at the table, everyone is eating and processing together; it is a gathering. So, I provide food to help people relax and feel nourished so that they can speak. It is easier to talk about things when your guard is down and you’re eating, especially when the food is good.
I’m also very specific about the foods that are there. I like to support local companies, and see it as an opportunity to experience food. Some of my favourites include: Nalia June for her jollof rice and fried chicken; Early Bees; and Lulu’s Apron. In the beginning, I was paying for all of it, so sometimes it has been snacks instead of meals.
How do you envision Table Talk growing & changing in the future? What topics are you hoping to explore in upcoming Table Talks?
I want to see more travelling, and moving the Table around. I would go anywhere, but I’m interested in going to back to the States. Even the East Coast of Canada, or up North. I want to be able to move to different places, because when I go to different cities, people are being reminded how to be communal and how to connect. It is giving people permission to gather, celebrate the food, celebrate the people, and talk about important topics. It’s a simple format, and food is a necessity. The process is really satisfying for me because eating, listening, and vulnerability are all forms of resistance. They disrupt the flow of capitalism and decolonize conversations and spaces. With that said, participating requires a ton of accountability. In addition to Victoria, I have been to Kamloops, and recently two schools in Vancouver: Upper Lynn Elementary and Total Education.
I’m currently waiting on research funding application to measure the sense of resilience and self-esteem before and after participating in the Table. I want to evaluate narrative therapy.
Recently, there was a Table Talk about racialized perspectives on navigating the legal landscape in partnership with the University of Victoria Law Equity and Diversity Committee. In terms of future topics, I am interested in talking about access to mental health services in these communities, and how we can promote that.
The phrase, “you are what you eat,” is often used to describe how food is a determinant of health. However, both humans and food are much more complex and nuanced than that. So, what does the phrase, “you are what you eat,” mean to you?
Food provides an opportunity to participate in someone else’s culture. You’re an explorer when enjoying food in this way.
What food do you think is most underrated?
Popcorn. I usually make it with sea salt and butter.
Is there a recipe or dish that changed you?
The first time I had jollof rice. I was at my auntie’s house, and it was just rice and chicken but the seasoning is so good that I just kept eating.
Are there cookbooks or books about food you are currently enamoured with and/or often revisit? What are they, and why do you love them?
I usually just free style in the kitchen.
What is your comfort food?
Are there any foods that you dislike?
Oatmeal. I don’t like the texture of cooked oats, I want to like them, but I haven’t reached that place yet.
Really runny eggs.
What is your earliest food memory?
Having strawberries from the garden when I was a kid. They are like candy from the earth.
What is your fondest food memory?
Frying up plantains in my first apartment after a long day at work.
Are there any meals that you would rather forget?
Lip cutter buns. One family meal included chicken sandwiches with those triangle buns from Costco. The sandwiches would be baked, making the edges of the bun so sharp that they would cut your lip. Often, these were served with pineapple pieces, which would sting the cuts from the bun. Eventually, there was a family meeting calling for an end to this meal.
When you cook, you are ________.
When I am cooking for someone, I am determined.
Who would you most want in your kitchen? Are they cooking for you, are you cooking together, or are you cooking for them?
It is a toss-up between my partner, Carmelle, and my Dad. I can’t imagine them cooking in the same kitchen, but if they did I would be in background, not cooking a thing.
I would love helping my Dad cook breakfast. We would make hashbrowns, bacon, scrambled eggs and toast. It would be intense, but everything would be hot when it was time to eat.
What is your staple dish for a potluck?
Now, I make a cauliflower stir-fry. It has spinach, cauliflower, chicken or beef, bell peppers, and green onion.
Before, I would make baked potato skins topped with cheese and bacon. It was like the Super Bowl every time I made them.
What is on your grocery list?
- Greens, like spinach, and kale
- Fruit, especially apples, and berries when they are in season
- Protein, like chicken, beef, or fish
What do you feel like eating for dinner tonight?
What is your most memorable meal? Why?
Paella. When I landed in Barcelona, I met up with a friend, and we ate a massive bowl of paella. Afterwards, we wandered to the beach.
Where do you love to eat in Victoria?
As a way to connect with others, and celebrate food, we decided to organize a recipe exchange of your favourite sweet treats.
COVID-19 has illuminated many of the existing problems in our society, including food insecurity. We wanted to learn more about who is most affected, and discuss why these conversations are necessary, especially in the health and wellness world.
Ariel and Jess Reyes Barton are the creators of Palenke Greens, which is a burlap sack gardening initiative aimed at assisting people of African descent facing food insecurity. Not only do they provide all of the supplies to create a burlap sack garden, they also help to install it, and have exciting ideas for the future.