F&W Game Changers: Ashtin Berry
The activist and sommelier is not afraid of hard conversations.
Ashtin Berry has worked in hospitality for more than half her life. At the age of 15, she started working in restaurants, where she quickly discovered a truth that is foundational to the work she does now: Black people have always been the backbone of the hospitality industry.
Today, Berry-an activist, sommelier, and bartender based in New Orleans-is the cofounder and community architect of a creative agency called Radical XChange, where she leads workshops for clients on diversity, safety, and inclusion in the world of hospitality. But what started as a means of orchestrating virtual and in-person events focused on the confluence of food, beverage, and social justice has become much more: a catalyzing force for having difficult conversations, facilitating and inspiring actual change, and disrupting the systemic racism that is the industry status quo.
Berry pushes concepts like equity and intersectionality (how different identities overlap) to the forefront of the restaurant world through events like Radical XChange's annual symposium, Resistance Served. This year's conference, which was virtual and free to attend, included seminars on topics such as the sex economy and its role in hospitality, and Black farming and landownership. She considers herself an educator, inspired by her degree in sociology, and she uses her popular Instagram account to put an intersectional lens on difficult topics within the food and beverage space-like self-care, decolonizing Thanksgiving, and the racist origins of tipping-to her nearly 40,000 followers.
Berry is careful to note that her posts are not the entirety of her work or of who she is. She is seeking more balance in her work, and thereby more fulfillment. And there's so much more she wants to do beyond what she has become known for thus far. This fall, she will launch a bimonthly wine club, which will include pairing playlists and tasting notes inspired by music. She's also working on her first book.
"Being Black in this industry-especially if you're not a chef-means you have to have so many tools, skills, or information to be special or interesting to the white majority, to the people who decide who's interesting," Berry says. "And while I've never really searched for validation, I think I've finally reached a point where I don't care if white people find me interesting or not." At the end of the day, remaining true to herself is what guides Berry's work, her vision, and what renders her joyful. Doing so is nonnegotiable.