It was Fourth of July and Padma Lakshmi wasn’t feeling particularly patriotic. Lakshmi, 49, doesn’t bake often, but on the holiday she traditionally makes a dessert for her daughter, Krishna. So she decided to get creative. She whipped up a mixed-berry pie, and used the crust to spell out a simple, yet powerful message: “Close the Camps.” She captured a photo of her American flag-inspired confection and posted it on Instagram with the caption, “While we celebrate the Fourth, there are refugee families legally seeking asylum in this country being detained and forced to sleep on concrete floors with aluminum blankets and no medical care. This is a stain on our nation and we need to do something now. Contact your representatives tomorrow to demand they #CloseTheCamps.”
Lakshmi was born in Delhi and grew up between India and New York, before settling in California—a journey that has shaped her activism. “I was separated from my mother because she immigrated to this country and I stayed back with my grandparents, so this is something that’s very close to my heart,” Lakshmi tells Glamour. “In my case, it was done in the most gentle, loving, caring manner. I was left in the bosom of my extended family who took care of me. And I still suffered trauma because of that. Because in those developmental years, from age two to four, to not see either of your parents, it’s really, really damaging.”
With the renewed restrictions on immigration in the U.S. under the Trump administration, Lakshmi felt compelled to take a stand. She got involved with the ACLU, and then it occurred to her that the medium she was best suited to use to create change was food. At first, she considered another cookbook. But then Hulu reached out and Lakshmi signed a deal with their upcoming kitchen vertical to create a show all about the cuisine of immigrant communities. (It will also be Lakshmi’s first solo series.)
“The Hulu show came about because I’ve always felt strongly that the kind of food that is produced by immigrants is the most interesting and delicious. And after the election I started getting really incensed about what was happening with the Muslim ban and family separation,” she says. “[I’m using] food in a way to explain what this country really looks like. Who are Americans today, and who are the new Americans shaping [culture] today?”
These are questions that Lakshmi has tried to answer throughout her career. On any given day you can find her throwing a comedy show to benefit abortion access, protesting alongside McDonald’s workers calling for sexual harassment reform at the fast-food chain, or baking a pie that packs a punch.