Anna Trapido: Examining discrimination in SA’s food systems

By , 23 June 2020



#BlackoutTuesday was a worldwide initiative on 2 June this year to go silent on social media in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign. Many of South Africa’s significant food and wine industry players (and the foodie/wino patrons that they serve) participated by posting the image of the black square. Which is all well and good but it is at best a beginning not an end in itself.

It is relatively easy to recognize and pontificate on the institutionalised racism that is woven into almost all facets of American life. It is less easy to acknowledge and engage with the fact that many of the same forces exist in South Africa. As restaurateurs, wine farmers, distributors, diners and drinkers, it can be extremely uncomfortable to examine the ways in which our livelihoods and epicurean pleasures are achieved at the expense of others. And yet, if we truly believe that Black Lives Matter, it must be done.

South Africa’s food systems are riddled with intergenerational racial injustice from the farm to fork. Such stressors are often overlaid with class and gender discrimination. Those of us who like to eat out and drink well would often rather not be reminded of how much race has historically and, tragically post-democracy, continues to deeply influence access to resources and opportunity at every stage of the value chain within the food and wine sector. If we are what we eat it is important to reflect on the fact that the South African Health and Nutrition Survey for 2013 shows black South Africans were 22 times more likely to be food insecure than their white compatriots. Equal opportunities on farms and within restaurant and bar businesses is a long way off. Black guests are often subject to discrimination and stereotyping at many establishments all around the country.

South Africa’s economy was in an extremely weak position even before the COVID-19 crisis. As Winston Churchill said: “never waste a good crisis” and the current situation forces us to rethink our deeply flawed status quo. Now is the time to consider what sort of society we want going forward. The infectious disease pandemic has revealed our interconnected vulnerability. Such a sense is almost certainly fleeting. Now is the moment that reform accelerated by desperation might be possible. Blink and we might miss it.

To ignore the above or take offense is to the easy way out. Those trying to be the change they want to see are often unsure how to begin. American academic and activist Rachel Cargle offers a helpful recipe that can be used to hold oneself accountable to anti-racism: “Knowledge plus empathy plus action. If you take any one away, you’re performing.”

What follows are a few suggestions as to where South African food and wine lovers can start the process towards knowledge, empathy and action. Please share resources, thoughts and ideas as to how to build on this list so that we can move towards a fair, inclusive, and diverse South African epicurean experience for all.

Commit to knowledge.


Solomon Plaatje; Native Life in South Africa (Wits University Press. First edition 1916)

Charles Van Onselen; The Seed Is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, 1894-1985 (Jonathon Ball. 1996)

Nompumelelo Mqwebu; Through the Eyes of an African Chef (Quick Fox. 2018)

Kgaladi Thema and Ursula Moroane-Kgomo; A Culinary Journey of South African Indigenous Foods. (CSIR/ Dept Arts and Culture 2008)

Chris Ying; You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another (Mad Dispatches, Volume 1. 2008)

Hannah Kay Wittman (editor); Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature & Community. (Fernwood. 2016)

Andries du Toit; Deracializing Exploitation? ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ in the South African Wine Industry. Journal of Agrarian Change 8(1):6 – 32·January 2008

Joachim Ewert; A Deepening Divide in the Countryside: Restructuring and Rural Livelihoods in the South African Wine Industry. Journal of Southern African Studies 31(2):315-332June 2005

Beyond Access: What the Movement for Black Lives’ Policy Says About Food. Civil Eats·November 2016

Documentaries and YouTube:

Women On Farms; Empowering women and girls on the vineyards. (Documentary, 2016)

The Colour of Wine (Documentary 2018. Akin Omotoso)

Kwame Onwuachi (author of Notes from a Young Black Chef) Talks About Public Pressure, Representation and Finding Peace (Food & Wine, 2019)

Culinary Injustice; historian Michael Twitty on the lack of protection for African American culinary heritage.

Commit to empathy and action.

Follow and support food justice organisations:

SA People of Colour At The Table (SA POC): A group that fosters opportunities for skills exchange, networking and collaboration for people of colour in the South African food and beverage industry.

Tasting Stellenbosch Initiative (TSI): An alliance of chefs and Stellenbosch Wine Routes who provide access to hospitality industry training for under-privileged newcomers and upgrade the skills of existing employees;

Abahlali baseMjondolo Land, Housing Dignity: A grassroots organization building food sovereignty from below.

The Women on Farms Project (WFP): This NGO works with women in commercial agriculture in the Western Cape Province.

The Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA): An alliance of national rural women’s movements, assemblies, grassroots organisations across eight countries in the SADC region.

  • Dr Anna Trapido was trained as an anthropologist at King’s College Cambridge and a chef at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. She has twice won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award. She has made a birthday cake for Will Smith, a Christmas cake for Nelson Mandela and cranberry scones for Michelle Obama. She is in favour of Champagne socialism and once swallowed a digital watch by mistake.

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8 comment(s)

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    Roxan Waldeck | 10 January 2021

    Anna, thank you for raising this topic. We see these things and feel these things, but often times, we don’t speak these things. I include myself. What and where we eat is an extention of deep-rooted layers of social constructs and subconsious paradigms. When we begin looking into (and feeling into) the events leading up to our food at our table, the wine in our glass and, hospitality service in its kaleidescope of forms, I know – after many years both in service and as an eatery patron, that there’s a real mix of subtle emotions and memories as I get ready to leave a restaurant or tasting room. A few that come to mind are introspection, supression, yes, empathy, encouragement and at times, entitlement. In a word, priviledged. An ambiguous word and a hard pill for many people in this audience to swallow.

    Thank you, as well, for the links. I’ll make use of them. I’d like to think that 10 years down the line, the narrative around discrimination in SA food systems would have evolved from near taboo to insightful dialogue that inspires new ideas and behaviours. I think this article is a step in that direction.

    Melvyn Minnaar | 24 June 2020

    This may be the most important article to appear on this website in this time. Thank you Anna.
    I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the ‘wine, food, song & dance’ – with take-out dinners at R1 500 and single bottles of wine at R800 – while asked for a bread outside the supermarket door and a jar of peanut butter.

    Richard | 24 June 2020

    Thank you for offering an innovative suggestion for how wine lovers can channel a desire to be part of a solution not perpetuators of a problem.

    anna trapido | 24 June 2020

    Thank you all for the fascinating thoughts. Knowledge, empathy and action are perfectly compatible with great wine and a great wine magazine website. Beautiful, delicious wine can and should be made and enjoyed in a way that respects and rewards all those in the supply chain from grape to glass. I have always felt that Luxe Ubuntu is the way to go.

    Duncan | 24 June 2020

    Thanks for this

    Roland | 24 June 2020

    Thank you for this. Many uncomfortable conversations still to be had.

    For those who think we should leave politics to the dailymaverick (“it’s just wine, score out of 100 please!”), I am just old enough to remember a time when the grown-ups said we should leave politics out of sport, leave politics out of music etcetera.

    @Gal, do you know the expression “you are what you eat”?

    John | 23 June 2020

    Wow, Gal, sadly I expected exactly the sort of tone deaf comment that you have made in response to Anna’s article. Do you really think that you can enjoy your food and wine in a vacuum entirely divorced from the conditions in which so many South Africans live?

    Gal Gestin | 23 June 2020

    Wow, never thought we would read this on

    I thought it was all about wine (and sometimes food). #winemattersplease

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