Since President Donald Trump signed his travel ban late the night of January 28, protests have sprung up across the nation, especially so in New York City where immigrants are the backbone of the city’s culture. The next day thousands gathered at JFK Airport to protest, then a few thousand more marched on Battery Park on Sunday to show solidarity for the people affected by the executive order barring entry for people from seven majority-muslim countries.
After those first couple headline-making marches, the citizen actions have continued in different forms. Last Friday, the city’s bodegas shut down so 5,000 owners and supporters could gather at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. And on Saturday, Breaking Bread NYC held their first event. With the goal of building bonds in the community over cuisine, they led a culinary tour of restaurants of exclusively serving the food of the seven countries named in the executive order.
“A lot of people who never considered themselves politically active–myself included–have been jolted by these recent activities by the Executive Branch,” says Scott Wiener, one of Breaking Bread NYC’s co-founders. “Suddenly we’ve been forced to figure out a way to respond to show my extreme opposition to so many of these actions and while I’ll go to a community meeting or rally or march or protest, they’re not my natural language. I speak food, as do my co-organizers. The way we feel comfortable communicating is through food.”
So Wiener, the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours, had an idea to not just protest, but to help support people in his local community. “When I saw what was happening in Washington, my first thought was ‘how can I best respond to this?’” Wiener says. “And the first thought was ‘I’m a professional food tour guide, so maybe I can get together with some other food tour people and put something together to promote positivity and support for our neighbors who are being hit by these moves in Washington.’”
After a series of texts among fellow food guides, they built a Facebook page and announced their first event. The attendees met at Damascus Bread and Pastry shop in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood and then embarked on a tour of five Syrian and Yemeni eateries. The 80 people who showed up on Saturday paid $30 to cover the cost of food along the route, and then the remaining money was donated to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“It brings tears to my eyes to see all these people show us so much support,” Abdul Erahim, the 30-year-old owner of Yemen Cafe, told The New York Daily News as his restaurant was flooded with the tour group. “We’ve really seen an outpouring of support from the neighborhood here.“
The group is organizing more gatherings around New York, from tours like this to multi-course meals at a single restaurant. You can check in on the group’s Facebook page, which keeps a calendar of upcoming events, which includes a Yemeni lunch in The Bronx and a Somali dinner in Harlem.
“We had something real and powerful happening that resonated with so many people in a positive way,” Wiener says. “It’s so easy to get carried away with negativity lately, this is a great way to stay sane.”