A chef who loves all things savory, stepped out of her comfort zone to join the Bakers Against Racism campaign to raise needed funds for Ark Republic.
Like most businesses in the pandemic, and in particular a Black-owned start up by a woman, Ark Republic struggled to remain open. In the middle of contemplating the very real decision to cut operations, and even shutting down entirely, we saw a social media post that was like a distant bright light showing signs of hope. Someone announced that they would raise money on our behalf via a digital bake sale. To our surprise, it was our resident culinary expert and cultural anthropologist, Cassandra Loftlin.
Chef Cassandra swore she was not a baker, but months later, several recipients still say her pound cake was “fire.” We hope to shine some light back by bringing you Chef Cassandra’s story.
The Back Story: Bakers Against Racism Campaign
As the world began to fall apart early 2020, I was at a loss for what to do for work, for the world for the future. I didn’t know what to do. So in March, I left Boston to return to Georgia to wait for the pandemic to pass.
As social and economic stressors collided and eventually erupted into civil unrest, I felt helpless. What can I do besides sit here and rock back and forth like a madwoman? An answer emerged.
In June, Chef Paula Velez launched Baker’s Against Racism, a virtual worldwide bake sale to raise funds for organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement. I told myself, “If I can’t do anything else, I can cook.”
In response to Chef Velez’ call, I decided to bake my grandmother’s pound cake to raise money for Ark Republic. I decided to donate the funds to Ark Republic because the publication is a means for people of color to speak and to listen, to be heard and to be seen. I expected to sell 2 or 3 cakes to be mailed, I never expected locals to order and I never expected to ship 50-plus cakes.
AR: How do you define your work?
CL: My work has two main functions, first, plain and simple my job is to feed and nourish. My second function is to provide genuine hospitality, something that you would expect to receive from a hotel, or a bed and breakfast listed in the Green Book. To offer people the food they enjoy, in a comfortable environment, free from judgment.
AR: What population does your work serve?
CL: I work with people from all walks of life. People who want to be entertained, people who have a physical need for healthy food, people who want to learn to take care of themselves by learning to cook.
AR: How do you do your work differently than others in your field?
CL: I don’t think I am different from any other chef. Every chef I know is “all in”. Every day I give 1000%, this is not a profession you enter for fortune or fame, you have to love it.
AR: How did you create an audience or community?
CL: Personal interactions. Every follower I have is someone I know or who I have worked with or met along my journey. I do my best to maintain genuine interactions. If I make connections with “friends of friends”, we eventually meet, and they become “friends and family”.
AR: How did the pandemic or protests change or shift your life?
CL: The protest and the pandemic have been both a blessing and a curse. The pandemic stopped all my plans cold. All my career plans for the next two years and all of my travel plans. Initially, I planned to stay in Boston until April, take a vacation, spend the summer in Alaska, and in September, I planned to move to DC to learn more about policy and eventually start tackling issues surrounding food sovereignty and hunger issues. My job in Boston ended, I have to leave the city because of the high infection rate, the Alaska season was canceled, and the program in DC was postponed indefinitely. The protests destroyed what was left of the idea of equality or “we will be okay if we can just wait for the next administration”. 2020 was not the year we wanted, but the year we needed. We finally had an understanding of how the “sausage” of capitalism is made and it is an ugly reality we can longer hide or ignore. I have a different sense of what is important for individuals and our community, which is independence, equality, self-sufficiency, access to education, healthy food, clean water, and justice., in short, real self-efficacy. It’s time for lady liberty to deliver on her promise, to all of us. It is not that I didn’t value these things before, but now they are urgent above all else.
AR: How did you find strength in some of the darkest hours this year?
CL: As simple as it sounds, to keep moving forward and to rest when I could no longer move forward. I take a lot of refuge in talking with friends and family.
AR: Who or what gave you the courage to continue on?
CL: I think about the advice my grandfather would give any time I had a problem. He would always say, “All you can do is all you can do”. Which is an answer and a question. If I have done all that I can do, I take solace in that, but rarely, if ever have I done all that I can do. There is always one more thing, no matter how small of an action, which generally leads to the next action item that can be done.
AR: Which of your accomplishments gives you joy?
CL: I rarely if ever look back, but I am very happy about the professional network of friends and colleagues that I have built over the last few years.
AR: What is a philosophy or idea that keeps you grounded?
CL: Thinking about the impact I have on others and what I am leaving for the future.
AR: 2021 and forward is about reimagining and repair. What is your great imagining or construction of what the world must look like and be?
CL: It is difficult to wrap my head around this question, I do not know where to begin but what I do know is that the system must be dismantled and we must start from scratch. We cannot build from or on a rocky foundation. The system is broken. We have to start over and there must be a redistribution of wealth, assets, and access.
For The Light Series, we’re raising money for Ark Republic and Black Farmers Index. We need your help to keep the wheels churning and the stories flowing. Please donate to organizations committed to keeping you informed with rich, robust stories and great connections to empowered people.