Reflecting Canada’s Diverse Reality in Marketing

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TORONTO — As part of the Terroir Symposium’s Tuesday lineup, Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, highlighted the lack of diversity that exists in all aspects of food marketing during an afternoon Terroir Talk.

“[Black Foodie] is a platform that is created to celebrate Black food culture, the chef’s, the cuisines, the restaurants and all of the amazing things that happen within the Black food world,” Hagos explained. “it was actually sparked by an experiences of racism I had while eating out…When doing Black Foodie, I realized that this is something that exists in so many ways in the industry — not just for people who are experiencing the hospitality world, but those who work within it and those who work within food marketing or those who, like me, are in the social media space.”

She explained that, while here has been a recent push to amplify Black voices, “we see brands start to respond in ways that are just really not appropriate [or adequate]…What I witnessed many times was [the industry’s idea of amplifying Black voices] meant searching online for people and tagging them on your brand’s social-media page without paying them, without knowing them, without engaging them, without asking them for permission, and placing them as a prop on your page to [make it] look as though you’ve worked with Black people. And, I know this because I was that person on those pages.”

Addressing the inevitable question that this statement brings up, Hagos said, “what does amplifying Black voices mean?…That’s a question I’m still answering, but I can tell you that part of what that means is working with Black people, listening to Black people and valuing Black people…It starts with working with Black folks at all levels.”

She highlighted that food marketing has often left out Black people from events, campaigns and speaking opportunities or placed them in narrow boxes. “If you looked at campaigns that exist currently — [though] things are starting to shift — we often don’t see the fact that Black people live, they eat food, they cook, they buy stoves, they buy microwaves, the host dinner parties,” she noted. “What we see in these campaigns are food bloggers, chef ambassadors [and] mixologists that don’t at all reflect these communities and don’t at all showcase the fact that we exist outside of the trauma; outside of your response to racism.”

She says marketing needs to allow for a diverse representation of Black people and experiences, rather than simply having a single, narrow slot to represent a whole group. On this topic, Hagos pointed to lists of Black-owned restaurants that have been shared by many media outlets and the ineffectual nature of these well-meaning lists if they aren’t backed up with further representation. “If you don’t ever share any content around the types of food that we eat, how can you expect people to go and spend money in these restaurants when they don’t understand the menu, they’ve never seen that chef before or have no cultural context to associate the food with?” she asked. “I think that, when we start to do this, we’re going to start seeing a shift and we won’t necessarily need those lists because we’re incorporated already — we already are a part of the fabric rather than existing externally.”

In closing, Hagos stressed “Our food culture is appealing to people across the board…[Canadians] are interested; I think they’re bored with the way that things have been going and they’re ready to see new faces. They’re ready to learn about these flavours, spices, new cooking techniques; they’re ready to see the Canada that I see in [their] cooking magazines [and] in commercials.”

However, she added, “[this] means getting uncomfortable; it means acknowledging the fact that when you invite these content creators, these chefs, these organizations in, they’re going to ask questions [and] maybe they’re going to create something that’s different than the other creators or chefs. But, that’s a good thing — that’s what we’re needing. That’s what I think consumers are waiting for.”

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