Autophagies (Self-Eaters) is a show halfway between theatre and group tasting session. New Orleans native Karen-Kaia Livers plays the role of master of ceremonies, inviting the audience to a “documentary eucharist,” orchestrated by the chef Alexandre Bella Ola. Over an hour and a half, the preparation of mafé is accompanied by stories about its ingredients. According to the director, Eva Doumbia, this journey through a dish consists of “starting with a small thing and unfolding it to tell a story.” Behind every food item is the story of a migration, colonial conquest, or different forms of exploitation of people or the environment.

Eva Doumbia shares her strong childhood memories of her father’s restaurant, the first in Le Havre to serve mafé. A few years ago, however, she discovered that mafé is not a traditional dish, but a very recent recipe, as peanuts were introduced into West Africa after the Second World War. She then started reading more and more about the history of food and its link with historical and geopolitical phenomena. This gave rise to the idea of recounting the origins of food by cooking, and by linking them, through words and anecdotes, to personal experience. The intention is to become aware of what we have on our plate.

As a founding member of the Décoloniser les arts collective, Eva Doumbia pays particular attention to social dynamics and their influence on culture. Autophagies puts food center stage in order to readdress it through a number of paradoxes. Rice is the most consumed food in Africa? Yet it does not grow there, and must be imported from Asia, where mangoes and bananas also come from. As for sugar, which is useless to our bodies, it will be called into question for the crucial role it played in the Transatlantic slave trade. Without ever resorting to moralising, Autophagies simply proposes we “eat consciously,” taking our daily habits and our prejudices as a starting point for a broader reflection.

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Recommended readings to get you in gear for the show.

Hanna Garth and Ashanté M. Reese, editors. Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice. University of Minnesota Press, 2020. 

Anita Mannur, Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures. Duke University Press, 2022. 

Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York University Press, 2012.

Jennifer Jensen Wallach, Every Nation Has its Dish: Black Bodies and Black Food in Twentieth-Century America. University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

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Bomb Magazine | 2023

Eva Doumbia and Chef Alexandre Bella Ola Interviewed by Amelia Parenteau

“Using day-to-day issues, I try to address stories that have been left out of modern history.”

Extra Credit

We’ve picked a book to complement each show in our season. We’ve got novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and memoir. It’s a fun, informal way to find a new favorite book, meet people, and get your brain into gear for the show – even if you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet.