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caption: Jimaine Miller
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Jimaine Miller
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Here's what I've learned feeding protesters in Seattle

Jimaine Miller, A.K.A. the Def Chef, has been cooking a lot lately. That’s his job, but for weeks he’s also been cooking for protesters who march for racial equality and for people in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, known as the CHOP.

He cooks with hundreds of pounds of donated food, and gives it away for free. And it's changed him in ways he didn't expect.

This story is part of a series of first-person narratives documenting this moment in history, from the pandemic to the protests for racial equality.

F

ood is weird, but it helps overcome barriers. It helps overcome misunderstandings. It helps overcome things that we don't even care to understand.

I don't need to ask you your beliefs, any of that deep stuff until I've fed you first. It doesn't make any sense, right? So let me get you fed first. Let me get some food in your stomach.

And we could talk tomorrow, right? Or we could talk a week from now; we could talk a year from now. But I want you to know that before I asked you for anything, I was willing to give you something.

And you know, food might not be much in the grand scheme of things. But in the moment, a lot of times it's everything to somebody.

I treat everyone as if they're paying me top dollar, because that's what they deserve. Anywhere somebody goes, I feel that they should have an option to eat.

I get that you don't have money. I get that maybe you don't get a Wagyu; that's not what I'm saying. [Editors note: Wagyu is a super-expensive steak]

I just think food is one thing everybody deserves, like you deserve it. It's a right.

caption: Jimaine Miller prepares chicken tenderloin for po'boy sandwiches in the kitchen of Soulful Dishes on Yesler Way in Seattle. On the day KUOW visited, he was cooking for protesters in a south Seattle march, protesters at the CHOP, and a last minute paid event at the City of Seattle.
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Jimaine Miller prepares chicken tenderloin for po'boy sandwiches in the kitchen of Soulful Dishes on Yesler Way in Seattle. On the day KUOW visited, he was cooking for protesters in a south Seattle march, protesters at the CHOP, and a last minute paid event at the City of Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Before I got into food justice and social activism, my perspective I lived in my box, right? I go to school, I play sports. I didn't really deal with controversial topics. I didn't really interact with people different from me.

The thing I've learned from serving food in the CHOP is that everybody has a different perspective. Everybody's here for a different reason. And it makes you grow.

It's allowed me to be more educated on stuff that I thought I knew about: OK, so now I've talked to somebody who really knows about this. Or they're really this type of person who I thought was this way, but they're not this way.

I learned that I like people more than I thought that I did. People who might have chemical dependencies or mental issues or they might be a little eccentric, right? And we're like, well, “You're a weird. You're this, you're that.”

But then you talk to them. And it's all like, Nah, he's a fucking genius. Like, yeah, like that outfit is crazy. I get that. Talk to this guy. It's a growth opportunity.

I mean, to be honest, I honestly believe I get more out of it than the people who I help. I hear all their stories and it’s great, I love it. But I'll admit, there's plenty of times like I'm out here more so for me, than I am for them.

caption: Jimaine Miller at Soulful Dishes restaurant.
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Jimaine Miller at Soulful Dishes restaurant.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

I

've been serving food at the CHOP for about a week and a half because we need to all connect and food is a great connector, right?

And it's what I do anyway. So I can be a part of any revolution, any movement, any change, anything, because food is always involved, you're always going to need that resource. You're always going to need sustenance.

So I'm here to provide that.

And then we could get into the other stuff.

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Jimaine Miller, A.K.A. the Def Chef, wanted to be sure to thank Soulful Dishes, a Seattle restaurant near Yesler Terrace that lets him use its kitchen to prepare food for protesters.

KUOW has been gathering first-person stories in our Voices of the Pandemic series. Since the death of George Floyd, we've been using the same format to include Voices of Protest. If you have a story you'd like to share on either of these topics, fill out our story form here.

This story includes music by Union, Blues and Alec Cowan.