For the past seven years, I’ve been told about this massive food festival where people are allowed to sell their culture’s traditional foods in Millennium Park. Every summer, the weekend after the fourth of July, crowds gather for a chance to get into the Taste of Chicago. It represents an opportunity for everyone to share the food, dance, and music that makes their culture unique in its own way. In the heart of the cultural exchange, Black Lives Matter demonstrators were in attendance, providing a higher arching context in which to frame the collective narrative. One may say their demonstration reminded all in attendance of how we all have a story to tell whether it is edible or not.
People here love to share their stories. Since 2008 I’ve been passing through the city of Chicago. To this day, I can’t say I have met many people from the city that failed to display a fervent passion regarding their upbringing. While admirable, Chicagoans do their city justice by how willing they are to share their slice of the city with everyone they meet. If you speak to someone born and raised in Chicago−the suburbs do not count−they’ll undoubtedly expound on the wide variety of cuisine in the city. Some will tell you the best pizza in Chicago can be found at Giordano’s. Others will tell you Lou Malnati’s began the deep dish and Giordano’s stole their recipe for success. Not unlike old aged tales, no one really knows the definitive story, but almost every person you meet has a preferred traditional American diner, Polish sausage, gyro joint, or Jewish deli. Most who grew up in Chicago know, if you don’t have the time nor the energy to explore the city, the Taste of Chicago offers a perfect alternative.
Being the home of more than 2.7 Million people, it is safe to say that each and every culture represented has a story to tell. The Taste of Chicago⎯simply known as The Taste⎯affords patrons the opportunity to indulge in as much cuisine the city’s residents have to offer. Booths, food trucks, and quirky Winnebago’s line both sides of every sectioned off piece of Millennium Park. No matter the vendor, they’ll tell you their customers are loyal because the authenticity of their food is important for the story it tells. Spices, sauces, and condiments are used to communicate a sense of culture and community. After tasting the fried ravioli from Tuscany, my partner began telling me about the times her dad would carry her through The Taste on his shoulders while she ate this comfort food. She explained to me how intimate of an experience it had been for her to enjoy Tuscany’s after having been away from The Taste for five years. Like her, throngs of people were also enjoying foods that made them remember the importance of authenticity in food and community when a Black Lives Matter demonstration interjected an encompassing narrative.
In the midst of this massive cultural exchange, BLM demonstrators, accompanied by Chicago PD, were being carefully watched as they were orating at The Taste. The binary visual of communities casually sharing culturally significant food and BLM demonstrators with fists clinched, held high, and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” shed an immediate light on the current national discourse. Peaceful demonstrations razed the crowds’ festive experience in lieu of events across the nation captivating the world’s attention. Here, in this place where food exemplifies entire communal identities, a motley of affected peoples came together to share their story. Rows of BLM activists drew attention away from immediate concerns to the continued devaluation and loss of black lives in the United States of America. In the wake of the recent police shootings, one certainly felt a sense that a larger narrative was made flesh and bone as they marched throughout The Taste and into downtown Chicago.
After being told by every Chicagoan I’ve ever met about the Taste of Chicago, it feels great to finally be able to say I have had a complete experience. Storied Millennium Park has always played host to a number of events that have always catered to one community or another. Depending on one’s sensibilities, The Taste of Chicago is one of the only occasions where everyone can find something to share with the masses. In the heart of this captive audience, Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched to give voice to the national story being played out in America’s streets. One may say their exhibition helped all in participation to remember how we as a whole have a story to tell whether it is palatable or not. Clearly demonstrating that while there are stories worthy of being rightfully celebrated, at this point in America, the narrative surrounding police brutality is one that affects us all.