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Ghetto Gastro Co-founder Jon Gray on Using Food as a Tool to Connect

Bronx chef collective Ghetto Gastro is changing the culinary game while putting the BX on the map. Here, co-founder Jon Gray talks food equity and how we can all do our part to effect change.

Photo by Lelanie Foster.

THE POWER OF FOOD

Bronx collective of chefs and food enthusiasts Ghetto Gastro fuses their unique culinary activations with the worlds of fashion, art, and activism. “We use food as a tool to connect and tell stories. We serve as amplifiers of the message and the work that our elders and ancestors have been doing,” explains co-founder Jon Gray.

“We use food as a tool to connect and tell stories. We serve as amplifiers of the message and the work that our elders and ancestors have been doing.”

During the height of COVID-19, the team partnered with a nonprofit—Rethink Food—and Bronx Oaxacan restaurant La Morada to distribute free meals to Black Lives Matter activists during the George Floyd protests. “The Black Panthers started the free breakfast program in the ’60s, so this conversation is not a new one,” he says. Through buzzy collabs like their limited-edition Crux kitchenware—released last September to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp—they’re making an imprint on the culinary world while putting the BX on the map. Here, Gray talks food equity and how we can all do our part to aeffect change.

What is Ghetto Gastro and how would you explain your mission?

We don’t fit in a box. The primary theme of what we do is to use food as a tool to connect and tell stories.

Please share a bit about yourself and our journey. What brought you to this work?

I’m a fourth generation Bronxite. My love of food and community starting at a young age. Around the age of five I started going out to eat in New York City with my mother, she loved exploring different cuisines. She was a single parent who worked and was getting a degree, so she didn’t always have time to cook. Myself, Les and Pierre linked through our love of food. We also were committed to challenging the status quo on the lanes we could use as Black men from the inner city trying to ‘make it.’

 

How does your work help to address issues of food equity and how has COVID-19 played into all of this work?

I think we serve as amplifiers of the message and the work that our elders and ancestors have been doing. The Black Panthers started the free breakfast program in the 60’s so this conversation is not a new one. We sit in a unique space because we operate within the arts and pop culture landscape so we connect with the youth in a poignant way.

Why does race matter when we talk about issues surrounding food equity?

The main reason race matters is because when you see the communities that have been exploited and oppressed for centuries there is a common theme. There’s so much extraction from Black and Brown communities with little to no reinvestment.

Ghetto Gastro founders (from left) Pierre Serrao, Lester Walker and Jon Gray. Photo by Kelly Marshall.

“The Black Panthers started the free breakfast program in the 60’s so this conversation is not a new one. We sit in a unique space because we operate within the arts and pop culture landscape so we connect with the youth in a poignant way.”

What are the most important lessons that you’ve learned since starting your work?

Stay fluid and remain committed to be a vessel of service. One team, one dream. Community builds immunity.

What are the biggest challenges to your work?

Besides the pandemic cleaning our clock on the business front, I think there is a fundamental challenge as a collective to stay on the same page. Especially as Black men coming from where we’re from, it’s important to learn how to communicate with each other in a constructive way that edifies rather than divides.

And on the flip side, what have you found most inspiring?

Black women inspire me the most, always. Starting with my maternal family unit on out. I’m also super inspired by the food industry’s grit and selflessness throughout these times–rolling up sleeves to solve problems.

 

What motivates you to continue this work?

Whenever I enter certain spaces and I’m one of the few melanated people in a room it serves as a constant reminder. We’re just getting warmed up; there is so much more to do to change the landscape.

“We serve as amplifiers of the message and the work that our elders and ancestors have been doing.”

What actionable steps can people take to support the work that you’re engaged in?

First and foremost, nourish yourself and your immediate circle. Secondly, please support our family on the ground doing great work such as Summaeverythang Community Center, Rethink Food, Sky High Farm, La Finca Del Sur, Oko Farms and Black Feminist Project. Lastly, stayed tuned for GG drops–we have a lot of heat coming.

“Stay fluid and remain committed to be a vessel of service. One team, one dream. Community builds immunity.”

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