Chef Kabui is an ecopolitical chef, urban farmer, and food activist fighting to empower the African and African-American consciousness with a food revolution. In his words, “There is nothing more political than food!”
Kabui grew up on a coffee farm near the slopes of Mt Kenya. Eighty percent of what his family ate they grew themselves. It was the epitome of sustainability and the foundation of his life. At the age of ten he moved to Nairobi where his father owned a restaurant. Kabui’s father was a political activist and was anointed by his grandfather to defend and sustain their Gikúyú culture and to be a library of knowledge for their people. His father in turn anointed Kabui. The restaurant was a hub of activism in the local community and it was here that Kabui began to question ideas of power and global white supremacy.
Kabui came to the US to study a degree in political science and went on to gain a master’s in medical anthropology and urban anthropology. His new academic language enabled him to begin to express and analyze the data he had gathered in Kenya. To side step the propagation of western ideologies Kabui decided to independently design and conduct his own “PhD” research project. He got a job as a security guard, made a list of books, and read at work, read at home, read everywhere as much as he could. After four years of self-study he concluded that food is central to political empowerment. “Food is the most integral part of any oppression or any disempowering. If you’re trying to conquer, colonize, or enslave other people, unless you colonize their food, unless you enslave their food you will never colonize them, you will never fully enslave them.”
Kabui started working in the food movement. He set up food gardens, and rekindled the knowledge gained during his early years on the farm. Today, he lives on his organic farm in Moncure, North Carolina where he cooks using indigenous knowledge and natural, sustainable ingredients. His greatest joy is to host ecopological dinners and to educate people on food literacy, food justice, and racial justice, often through presentations, lectures, and workshops at colleges and conferences. “A lot of things we call food are not food. People will tell you really inspiring stories about the positive changes in their life but the one thing that hasn’t improved is their diet.”
Kabui recently returned to Kenya to purchase underutilized land, to grow sustainable farms for the future. At the farm in Moncure, he is holding indigenous African Wisdom workshops as well as offering apprenticeships for indigenous chefs aimed at those wish to develop their knowledge of how to grow food, gain a deep understanding of food justice, and continue his inherited work of empowering Africans in the face of white supremacy.
Charlotte Hollands © 2017
Cite as: Hollands, Charlotte. 2017. “Chef Kabui.” Anthropology News website, August 15, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.575