About this event
Washingtonians are quick to dispute the claim that the District is not a “food city,” defending its merits and highlighting our many food traditions and restaurants. But in the past two years, under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are thinking differently about restaurants: from outright closures to risk of exposure to COVID-19 for predominantly immigrant laborers.
In this Context for Today, a closer look at who works in restaurants and why reveals the critical role immigrants have long played in D.C. food systems, from the opening of the city’s first Ethiopian restaurant in 1978 to community anchors such as El Tamarindo, opened in 1982, that have offered stability through successive waves of neighborhood development. With co-producer Marianne Tshihamba, we gather local restaurateurs who have shaped DC’s food industry to discuss the history of food as cultural diplomacy, activism, and economic stability in the city over the years.
Sileshi Alifom, owner of Das Ethiopian Cuisine; Ana Reyes, owner of El Tamarindo; and Andy Shallal, CEO of Busboys and Poets reflect on their own experiences as immigrants and owners of restaurants in the nation’s capital. They offer insight into the development of DC’s food scene and answer the questions: who makes a living in the food industry and how immigrant foodways shape an international city.
“Who Feeds the District?” is the latest installment in the D.C. History Center’s Context for Today series of online conversations with thoughtful and thought-provoking historians, activists, journalists, and community members.