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Benjamin Miller and Chef Cristina Martínez talked to Temple students and faculty on March 9, 2021. Screenshot: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.
Benjamin Miller and Chef Cristina Martínez talked to Temple students and faculty on March 9, 2021. Screenshot: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.

Cooking and activism: A Temple talk with South Philly Barbacoa

The nationally-recognized community chefs joined the school’s Spanish and Portuguese Department on March 9 to talk through some of her work.

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Back on March 9, Temple University welcomed one of Philadelphia’s brightest culinary and activist stars in Cristina Martínez and her husband, Benjamin Miller, for a talk about their work in the food world and how it intersects with their brand of community activism.

Their restaurant in South Philadelphia, South Philly Barbacoa, has been nominated for and won numerous awards for its homemade barbacoa, appeared in many national publications and shows, and is a Philadelphia staple. 

It’s Martínez’s recipe, and in the virtual call hosted by Temple’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, she said she’s the brains in the kitchen at the famed South Philly spot. Miller handles the business end of things.

They make the perfect team, and have taken their success and poured it back into their surrounding community.

“We’re united on the same path,” Martínez said.

That path is rooted in a humble mission to improve the lives of as many as they can in their community, using food as the vehicle to boost their platform. 

“We use the platform to push our message,” she said.

As the popularity of the food has risen to national stature, so has the platform.

It’s allowed them to reach more than they ever dreamed, but it’s also reinforced the need for Martínez and Miller to control the narrative as it became more popular.

Miller acknowledged the importance of media to get the message out there, but warned about its tendency to change the narrative.

“We are the content,” said Miller. “Don’t let them destroy the message.”

He went on to say that he hopes he and Martínez can write a book one day about their efforts to control all of the narrative.

Those efforts include political activism — both Martínez and Miller were active in the push for voter turnout during the 2020 election — and a new project, the People’s Kitchen.

In addition to being a project to bring food security and nutritious meals to communities across Philadelphia, the People’s Kitchen will also act as a base to build organizing and political power.

“It’s not a soup kitchen,” said Miller, who also related the effort to what the Black Panthers did with their free breakfast program to serve and organize communities of color around the country.

The plan for the People’s Kitchen is to host a number of pop-up, food-centric events in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Not only will the message be catered to each community, but the food served will also highlight its culture.

In a final message to the Temple students on the call, Martínez and Miller encouraged them to make the leap to find an issue that resonates with them, educate themselves, and get involved with the multitude of community organizations there are in Philly by building relationships

“It’s an honor to do this work,” said Miller.

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