As a chef, artist, and activist involved in food justice, Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik ’02 has a lot on her plate. Her recent work includes several projects with the People’s Kitchen Collective (PKC), bringing together people of diverse backgrounds to think about food as a tool to counter systems of oppression.
Active since 2007, the People’s Kitchen Collective was formalized as a collective in 2015 by founding members Bhaumik, Saqib Keval, and Jocelyn Jackson. The collective addresses the phenomenon of food deserts—areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food, as well as the fact that the unhealthiest foods are often targeted at poor and working class people of color. The PKC aims to disrupt the status quo and provide a healing experience through food through its programs. Twice a year, the collective provides a free, nutritious breakfast in Oakland, California, inspired by the Black Panther Party. Workshops are also offered, connecting food, migration, and decolonization, and community dinners that integrate art, storytelling, cultural histories, and grassroots political organizing. Contributors to the collective have varied backgrounds in art, law, community organizing, event management, catering, and environmental food justice.
Bhaumik’s art practice focuses on food because she believes it is “incredibly important not only to our physical survival, but also our cultural survival and sovereignty.” The kernel of her work began as a studio art major at Scripps, where she learned to refine her critical thinking skills. Working closely with professors at Scripps, she discovered art could be critical, important, political, and she could make a living from it. After graduation, she moved to the Bay Area, where she continued her art. She also began volunteering with Asian American arts organizations, including Hyphen magazine and Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest Asian Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization in the country, out of a desire to find a critical and engaged community similar to the one she enjoyed at Scripps.
Bhaumik eventually attended California College of the Arts, where she earned an MFA in interdisciplinary art and an MA in visual and critical studies. Since then, her work as an artist has taken her to places such as Shankill Castle in Ireland, where she was an artist-in-residence, and the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California, where she was a culinary resident, living and cooking alongside writers, composers, and visual artists.
This past May, the PKC was part of a group exhibition at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Washington, D.C., “CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality.” The collective presented “Kitchen Remedies,” a daylong social practice artwork aimed at “reconnecting traditional healing practices rooted in kitchen wisdom” by collecting and sharing stories of healing through food from around the world.
“I am collaborating with the most wonderful people, and I’m doing exactly what I want to do in my life, which is building community through food and art,” said Bhaumik.