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The Ten: Sara Salem

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Name and job title?

Sara Salem, Assistant Professor, LSE

Where were you born, where do you live now?

I was born in Lusaka, Zambia, and I currently live in London, England.

How you describe what you do?

I teach and write for a living, both of which I see as intimately connected to knowledge. I think of what I do as learning and cultivating knowledge, and helping knowledge to travel. I think of knowledge in the most expansive way possible, as made up of everything from academic texts to feelings we have. I am especially committed to thinking with and helping anticolonial and anti-racist forms of knowledge to travel.

How much did you spend on your last cup of coffee?


What is one ingredient that is crucial to you?

Coffee beans! I find the ritual of making coffee in the morning important to starting my day, and that first sip is really special.

What does a culinary system mean to you?

A food system to me is something both intimate and expansive. Intimate because it is what keeps us alive, is something we do throughout the day and that ties together so many of our social events and activities. We do it alone and with people; outdoors and at home; on the move and when we are relaxing. So in many ways, food is one of the most intimate parts of us, and is literally part of us physically. In other ways, food systems are expansive and global, and connect so many parts of our world. Thinking of food systems through political economy, for example, as I do in some of my teaching, it becomes clear how integral food production is to global capitalism and to inequality. Similarly, food production is a constitutive part of structures such as racism and sexism, among others, because it is part of our contemporary world. I therefore think food is a fascinating lens into both the structural, the global and the intimate; it can tell us so much about who we are, and what kind of a world we live in.

How does your immediate locale affect your work?

I work in Holborn, Central London. When I first started this job, I didn’t think much about how working in a place like Holborn could affect my day to day life or work. Over time, however, I began to notice how the particular energy of Central London both stimulates and drains me at the same time, and how this in turn affects the way I work. I began to pay attention to it, to find ways to navigate it and channel the energy into my work. London is an exciting city, full of history and energy. Given that I teach on colonialism, racism, and politics more broadly, I have found it extremely important to bring the city into the classroom, and the classroom into the city. How can spaces like the British Museum, for example, be part of how and where we teach? How can the streets of London be part of the curriculum? All of this came out of a desire to highlight how racism and colonialism are not ‘in the past’ or ‘over there,’ but all around us. Now that I teach more on food and racism/empire in particular, I have been thinking of how to integrate London’s rich food culture into my teaching. Bringing the city in is an important way of connecting the theoretical and the lived.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from many different places. I absolutely love reading—anything and everything—and find that this often inspires me and makes me think in ways I wouldn’t have before. I am inspired by people, by places, by travelling, momentary encounters, long-lasting relationships, and the excitement of all the people I have yet to meet and places I have yet to see. Being a teacher, I draw inspiration from my students and scholar friends, especially during those long, open conversations that are like a journey.

What impact do you want to have?

In my own life, I have always been moved by texts, moments, or conversations that made me see or think about something old in a new way. This is something I hope to be able to do through my work.

What change do you want to see in culinary system?

In our current moment we are increasingly faced by a crisis of racial capitalism that is several centuries old. If we want to live differently, to see a world cultivated by justice and hope, then we need to radically shift the way we think about the earth, each other, and the future. This is not something that needs to be invented; it is there in so many places—knowledges that have been marginalised for far too long and that we need to re-centre. In such a world, hunger would not exist, and nor would food be produced for profit.

credit: Hossam Dirar (also Sara's book cover)

We ask all our interviewees to send us two photos: one of themselves and one that represents their work.

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