This article is part of our Youth Voices series. At Ten Strands we believe that young people have valuable perspectives and a critical role in shaping our society and our world. We recognize their power to drive dialogue and create positive change, and are committed to providing a platform which amplifies their contributions.
Sarah Mondesir, a junior at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, CA, wanted to find a way to humanize Black women impacted by police violence. Through her MarinSEL School Of Environmental Leadership program, she has developed “Flavor Profiles,” a cookbook that tells the story of those who have lost their lives through the lens of their favorite recipes. We spoke to Sarah about her project as well as the role food plays in environmental equity.
You attend the MarinSEL School of Leadership at Terra Linda High School, tell us a bit about the program and how it has shaped you as an environmental leader?
SM: The program trains kids to better the environment and focus on issues surrounding social justice like making sure things are more equitable and affordable to all people. And through that, we are able to gain many new experiences. As freshmen and sophomores you focus on group projects and addressing things like plastic and waste. You use what you have learned out in your community to make sure you are keeping other people safe and educating them. Junior year is the business segment and senior year you participate in an internship.
Can you tell us more about the business portion of your program and how it led to you creating “Flavor Profiles?”
SM: As part of the business segment, we pitch an idea and six or seven kids are selected to actually bring their business idea to life. I was one of them. The rest of the class works with you to support the ideas. We have a group of leaders and we’re able to select classmates and people to be a part of our team.
Tell me about “Flavor Profiles” and the inspiration behind it?
SM: I wanted to do something unique that was unlike something done in my class and aligned with my passions. So I thought the best way to do that is to speak up about police brutality and just breaking down everything that has occurred throughout these past few years in a way that families and different people can really understand and recognize the pain and suffering that Black individuals go through. I decided to really zone in on Black women, because they’re not really recognized or heard. So “Flavor Profiles” spotlights Black women who have died due to police brutality. Something I really want to highlight is that the book is meant to really showcase the human side of them. I want people to recognize them as mothers, daughters, cousins, sisters, and friends, and realize they had hobbies. And a great way to humanize them is through food – sharing favorite recipes and things that bring us together.
What was it specifically about food that made you pull that aspect into this?
SM: There is the environmental aspect of food and making sure communities have what they need. But for me, I was really introverted and shy growing up and something that always helped me get past it was food. It’s a great conversation starter and unifier. When I was thinking of coming up with the idea of creating a book I wanted to make sure it appealed to many people to draw them in. Food is perfect. A lot of people are interested in learning different recipes, including young people. Also, many of the recipes used in the book are in support of Black owned restaurants and include their stories as well.
So the recipes will correlate with the stories of women impacted by police brutality?
SM: Sometimes the food will connect with the subject personally – correlating with the background or representing their favorite foods. The recipes will not only uplift and honor them, but also cooks. In this way, we will really shine light on different businesses. I really want to showcase the entrepreneurial side of the Black community.
Through your book you were able to connect with the family of Breonna Taylor?
SM: The coordinator of Marin SEL, Cyane, really encouraged me to reach out because you never know what can happen. I reached out to her mom explaining my project. After a few days, she responded and I was so excited. We scheduled a Zoom interview – my school principal let me use her office for it. I will include the full interview in the book. Her mom was nice enough to share great memories of Briana and really humanize her.
What is the importance of food to this project and to you?
SM: I feel like food can really bring people together by uniting different cultures and giving them a little taste of a culture. It also allows you to almost take a peek inside a whole different world that you’re not really a part of and that you haven’t really come to understand. With the dishes that I share, my main goal is to showcase another side and allow people to learn from different groups of people. I feel like food connects communities.
Can you give us a preview of a recipe that will be featured?
SM: Well, one of the themes in the book is that in a lot of cultures you don’t measure things exactly when you cook – you just taste as you go. So a lot of the dishes are not exact measurements. That’s a big part of understanding other cultures and learning there are different approaches to getting things done. Also, I want to introduce things like fried plantains. My parents are Haitian so that’s something from my culture.
What role does food play in equality and vice versa?
SM: In many underserved communities, a lot of times when different ingredients are used it’s because of what those communities can and cannot afford. So that requires digging for the right things you can afford and you taste all these amazing new flavors that you may not get anywhere else. We have to do the work to find new flavors. It’s sad to think that communities have to go out of their way to find the things needed.
Is there a release date for Flavor Profiles?
SM: I’m hoping for the summer. Our team is trying to come up with different events and different things that we can host throughout these next few months, while we are working on the book, to make sure we are like talking about it to different people and also having cooking classes and different times where people can come in and, you know, almost get like lessons related to the book.