For Activist Cori Bush, Food Holds A Deep Connection To Her Ancestors
As she prepares for an Aug. 4 primary election, the St. Louis congressional candidate shares a family recipe.
In Eat & Run, Bustle talks to political candidates about their relationships to food, from potluck staples to dishes layered in Havarti and nostalgia. First up is Cori Bush, who’s running for Missouri’s first congressional district. Scroll down for her family’s greens recipe.
As a St. Louis teenager, Cori Bush’s dinner table was decorated with soul food staples: roast beef, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans — all courtesy of her mother. Her father, the designated meat cutter, would share ancestral stories about them. Black-eyed peas, he’d tell his three children, were symbols of luck and hope for enslaved people.
In the early ‘90s, anchoring hope could feel like a wayward mission. In Washington, George H.W. Bush’s administration was sending hundreds of thousands of young men to the Persian Gulf. In Los Angeles, police officers were filmed beating Rodney King and later acquitted, leading to five days of protests. But in the heartland, a teenager was joining two separate legacies for which hope was vital: Black cooking, and Black struggle. Two decades later, those paths converged in Ferguson, Missouri, following the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown. Bush was called in to help as a triage nurse, ultimately staying on as an organizer and medical worker. The ordained minister was pepper-sprayed and beaten unconscious. Her own children were 13 and 14 at the time, just a few years shy of Brown’s 18.
On August 4, Bush, now 44, is re-challenging 10-term incumbent William Lacy Clay, Jr. in the primary for Missouri’s first congressional district. As the district reliably votes Democratic, the primary all but guarantees an Election Day win as well. (In 2018, Bush lost to Clay 56.7% to 36.9%, which was recorded in the Netflix documentary Knock Down The House.) She’s running on a platform that includes the Green New Deal, prison and justice reform, and Medicare For All.
She talks to Bustle about food in Ferguson, love languages, and battling the Thanksgiving turkey.
"During the Ferguson uprising, everybody fell into their thing. There was someone who’d finished her chef schooling during the uprising. She would come to the front lines and bring food from different countries. She’s a Black woman, but she introduced us to foods we’d never heard of before. So we’re on the front lines, with tear gas flying, and there are two 6-foot tables with different food that you could grab. It brought people together."
“I still have PTSD from protests and sexual assault. When I have those days, I’m a big soul food eater. I’ll go get a plate of food and put something stupid on television. Sweetie Pies is a soul food restaurant — they know me; I’m there all the time — [and] Mom’s Soul Food Kitchen is another. I’m getting a meat and three or four sides. For me, it’s baked chicken, turkey legs, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, greens, candied yams."
"My father would always barbecue snoots, the pig nose. I have family members who ate pickled pig feet. That was often what our ancestors, as slaves, had to eat. For greens, it’s the same thing. My dad taught us what these foods mean and why it’s important to eat them. That passed down. It was like, how do we make this work? How do we turn this into a meal to feed the family? Every single time I’m making greens, I feel like it’s a connection to my ancestors."
"I make the Thanksgiving turkey, [and have] for 15 years or more. It’s a whole deal. It’s been Tim, it’s been Edgar, I had a Wally. I clean the turkey, season it, and use a lot of green pepper and onion to bring out the flavor. While it’s in the bag, every so often I’m opening up the oven and I’m grabbing the top of the bag, and I’m sloshing that thing. We’re fighting. But by the end, I’m telling you, it’s the best turkey."
"I’ll cook for someone if I’m in a serious relationship. That’s one of the ways I express love. [For a first date, we] go out. I need to see how you treat servers. It would have to be the third or fourth date before I’d consider cooking for you — because when I cook, I’m cooking from the heart. I’m making an investment. There was someone who wanted to date me who was vegan, and we had a tough time: ‘Where are we going to go eat? What restaurant?’"
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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