For many of us, our most cherished memories were created around a table full of aromatic food emitting steam into the faces of the people we love most in the world. We learned life lessons while stirring pots, were taught time by watching cakes rise and eavesdropped on “grown folk’s business” while hands found rest on hips that bore children but also held history. 

Food has never just been about sustenance for Black women. It has always been about love. About family. About feeding souls not just stomachs. It is the one place where we have always found ourselves completely in control, completely safe and completely autonomous. Every style of cuisine has its roots in the innate ability of Black women. So, why then, are we often left out of the larger food blogging and chef communities? Well…we know why. And yet, as is often the case, we have created communities for ourselves. Social media has given us the unique opportunity to find the audiences we need and that need us in return. 

And we needed Black Girls In Trader Joe’s. 

When founder Dee Davis decided to make space for us in the larger conversation surrounding the food giant, she created an extended family of Black women who share more than just a love for affordable quality food. She made a home. That home on the block where you can always come in and feel welcomed. Where you need not waste your time explaining why you’re there, just head to the kitchen and make yourself a plate. BGITJ reinforces the idea that Black women belong everywhere and anywhere we want to be while simultaneously doing food justice work that is far reaching. 

We caught up with the food and branding maven for an exclusive interview about BGITJ and the woman behind the brand. 

Iman N. Milner: Why was it important for you to create this community, Black Girls In Trader Joe’s?

Dee Davis: Black women weren’t represented in Trader Joe’s, in my opinion. You may have seen Black women who worked there but when I started my own food blog, it was white women who were always showing the Trader Joe’s products. It was never Black women who had the big popular pages. You didn’t see someone saying, “hey Black women can shop at Trader Joe’s too” which is important because, as we know, Black women are often matriarchs. We are the ones who feed our families. We should have access to affordable, healthy, not-so healthy, organic or whatever the choice may be—and Trader Joe’s gives us those options. 

IM: So many times, Black women are creating the trends and other influencers take it and earn the money for it. Tell me about what your experience has been navigating this space that you’ve carved out for yourself?

DD: It didn’t dawn on me that BGITJ was a trend that non-Black women were following until I saw a page that is run by a white woman who created the exact same style tote bag that I was retailing for my brand. There’s thousands and thousands of bag styles you can choose, she chose the exact same one and created this narrative about how she’d been working on it for over a year and had always dreamed of doing it. It’s like, I doubt it. You clearly see me doing this as a business versus just posting about Trader Joe’s and you decide to do that too? That’s why you have to speak out. Too often Black women are silenced and told to be strong and shrug it off. No, hold these people accountable and take up space. It doesn’t matter where that is—online, at home, in the office—anywhere. Own who you are and speak up for yourself. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. 

IM: A lot of communities like yours are run anonymously, how has it been adjusting to being the face of this brand?

DD: When the page was started, I never planned on showing my face so that was an aha moment. Hearing other Black women saying “I love what you have done for us” because it’s more than just Trader Joe’s. We talk about lifestyle things and it’s bigger than a grocery store. The things that we all experience, understand and have been through being in spaces that were not created for us—it makes the community what it is. When I see people making the food I post for their families, it just makes my day because that’s what it’s about. It’s one of the best things that come out of this. 

IM: You also take time to point out that Trader Joe’s is a more fiscally responsible choice for Black women, who still earn less than most of our non Black counterparts. 

DD: Right. When we talk about equality, we don’t often talk about food equality. When we talk about the plight and the social injustice that is typically within the Black community; we talk about police killings, we talk about pay inequality but we don’t talk a lot about food deserts. The access to quality ingredients and quality foods—if you’re in an inner city, where do you get fresh produce? Farmers markets aren’t in the projects, they’re in the white neighborhoods where people can afford artisanal pastas, you know? And I want people to know, you don’t have to do all that. You can go to Trader Joe’s, which also tend to not be in Black neighborhoods, but you can get there, stretch your money and get quality things to feed your family. 

IM: Outside of this community, who are you in your own words?

DD: Well my birth name is Mercedes but I go by Dee. When the page first started, I wanted to be anonymous and having a name like Mercedes, I knew it’d be too easy for people to figure out. I chose Dee because it was my father’s nickname. I started working in retail when I was 16 and I worked in retail for 15 years. I worked with some bigger brands—Nordstrom, Apple, Lululemon—and that really taught me a lot of people skills in general. And then I pivoted when I wanted to leave retail and I decided to go to aesthetic school. A local school had a scholarship contest and I ended up winning a full ride to one of the top beauty schools in Ohio. I got my aesthetics license, opened my own spa and then COVID happened. In the state of Ohio, you couldn’t perform any services or you’d lose your license. So I put all my attention into BGITJ and it really grew from there. 

IM: But you do seem to have a passion for food and cooking, where does that stem from?

DD: My grandmother came here from Panama, my grandfather was from Jamaica so we grew up eating foods that weren’t easily found in the local grocery stores. We were eating oxtails when people were like “what’s an oxtail?” Watching my grandmother cook, spending a lot of time in the kitchen with her are some of my favorite memories. I have her signature tattooed on the arm I cook with and I usually wear her bracelets too because the memory I have of being a little girl, watching her cook and hearing those bracelets clink against each other. So, that’s my way of having her with me in the kitchen. Being there with her, that’s what started my love for cooking. 

IM: If you can connect cooking and this community you’ve created to your experience traversing through the world as a Black woman, what does that look like?

DD: Cooking is one of those places for me, when I’ve done it for people in my direct community, it was the way you showed your love for someone. It was always without judgment. I was free to be creative and try new things, even if it didn’t always work, the people I was feeding were always grateful. It’s not just about the food, it’s about gathering together over a home cooked meal. Nothing beats that to me.

IM: Ok, I think we need your top five fall/winter Trader Joe’s must haves. 

DD: Oh. First would have to be Partake cookies. A Black woman owned cookie company. Have to get those. The pumpkin bread and muffin mix, it’s so good. I made little bundt cakes with it and they’re amazing. The Argentinian bread shrimp—everybody has to have that at least once. The onion salt. It’s not super high in sodium but it has great flavor. Lastly, the lemongrass body oil. People usually mix it with the coconut body butter, they call it the concoction in our Facebook group. 

IM: What’s been the key to learning how to take up space and boldly walk in it?

DD: The most important thing to me was staying true to myself. I didn’t try to fit into the box of what a Black woman creator could be or food blogger or whatever category people try to push me into. I’m not a classically trained chef. I’m an influencer, in the sense that I influence people, but it’s more organic because it’s always going to be based on what I love. It’s about finding that right balance. I don’t share a whole lot about my personal life because that’s very sacred and I want to protect it. And just learning when it’s ok to put my phone down. Remembering that I am a person and that I have to be present for the people in my life who matter the most. And that helps me stay grounded in Mercedes, not just Dee. 

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