Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French writer, is credited with being one of the founders of the gastronomic essay. As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us it is worthwhile to think about our own food culture. A prominent symbol of the season is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, which manifests the wealth of the harvest.
However, in many areas of this country, like D.C.’s wards located east of the Anacostia River, food insecurity is confronted on a daily basis. One of our most basic human needs, access to healthy, nutritional foods is a foundational ingredient towards total well-being. Yet, food hardship is a daily reality for many Americans.
We took a brief tour of the east of the Anacostia breadbasket: the takeout restaurants (and a couple sit-down ones too) that have defined eating in Wards 7 & 8.
Wards 7 & 8 do have some sit-down restaurants. Busboys & Poets is moving into historic Anacostia. Uniontown Bar & Grill has survived an ignominious beginning, to become an engaging spot in the community. Cheers offers some of the best crabmeat-smothered french fries this side of the Chesapeake Bay. Yet wider access to decent grocery stores and healthy food offerings remains elusive for many residents in D.C.’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.
Local archivist and historian Jerry A. McCoy has collected a few relics from the days when a sit-down restaurant east of the Anacostia was perhaps more commonplace:
The Hong Kong Restaurant operated on Nichols Avenue S.E., what is known today as Martin Luther King Jr. Ave S.E. in Congress Heights, just down the street from the Hong Kong carryout featured in the video. Tucker’s Restaurant, advertisement below, was located just across the Souza Bridge from Capitol Hill.
Foodways change as cultural mores do. As we break bread this Thanksgiving, we might take a moment to reflect on something many of us take for granted, that access to healthy foods in one of the richest countries in the world is not a privilege to be taken lightly.