A People’s History of Southern Barbecue

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/04/barbecue-american-tradition-enslaved-africans-native-americans?CMP=share_btn_tw

Enjoy this piece I wrote, freshly published on The Guardian giving a short history of how barbecue is connected to American food and freedom through its enslaved African and Native American roots!

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Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Diaspora Food Culture, Food and Slavery, Food People and Food Places, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Heritage, Your Hate: Take on the Confederate Battle Flag Controversy

This is my response to the Confederate battle flag controversy.  The heritage of the Confederate era doesn’t just belong to white people, and for those of us who have a part in that history, it is impossible not to weigh in to correct some misperceptions about the divide between heritage and hate.  I hope this adds some richness and flavor to a debate that is lodged in tones of black and white.  As the descendant of whites who served in the Confederacy I have a unique take on how this narrative impacts our story as African Americans in a way the counter-protestors have failed to acknowledge.

Since its publication activist Bree Newsome climbed the flag pole in Columbia an d took down the flag.  Bree you have my utmost respect and appreciation for your act of civil disobedience and gentle use of spiritual force and creative power.

Chelius H. Carter's photo.

 

Posted in Cultural Politics, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cutting to the White Meat: The Real Issue With Rachel Dolezal

By now you’ve probably seen this picture:

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That’s Rachel Dolezal, NAACP activist, Africana studies professor, and according to her parents a white woman pretending to be a woman of color. Move over Iggy, all your problems just got solved, #fixitJesus Amen….

Now let’s be crystal clear. 1. RACE IS A COMPLETELY SOCIAL CONSTRUCT NOT A FIXED BIOLOGICAL REALITY, CULTURE AND ETHNICITY ARE FLUID BUT GENOTYPE IS NOT. 2. White people have been part of our blood and family life since we got here–and not just in the creepy rapey slave owner type way.  We have adopted white kids, we have had children with white people, we have even made some white cultural figures a part of our world.

When I was growing up I knew a short, red headed Irish American boy named Brian. Blue eyes, so help me. No surprise to me when we became Facebook friends as adults, that the love of his life is a Black woman. I never saw Brian as a “white kid trying to be Black.” Brian was Brian, and he’s still Brian. We never saw him as being ethnically or culturally separate from us African American kids. He was even MY rival for a spell in African American history class!

But truth…Brian has never claimed to be phenotypically “Black.” He’s never tried to pose as anyone else for his benefit or so he could more easily navigate his complicated identity. You’re a white person with a complicated cultural identity? We get that. What’s problematic is when you slide into positions of authority and influence pretending to be an African American when you are not or put your #whitecomplicatedidentityissues on the same scale as my #blackamericanlivedexperience.

Is this a question of fantasy? Delusion? Is the mantle of being a “strong Black woman” critical to her soul view?  Right now a lot of African Americans are confused by this story. Does she want “everything but the burden”? Or is the burden what she craves? We are bemused and befuddled but this is for sure, if Rachel wanted in on the tribe, there were much easier ways to achieve  that.

But there are larger systemic issues at work. There are relatively few high profile cases of white people trying to pass for Black. One of the more heart wrenching was the case of James McBride, author of The Color of Water, whose olive toned, curly haired Ashkenazi Jewish mother escaped an abusive household, fell in love with a Black man and passed herself off as a light-skinned Black woman.

We don’t question the perceived good Rachel Dolezal has done for her part of the world through her work in the NAACP  (which by the way has always had white member) and as an academic.  We have a saying in African American vernacular speak–“cut to the white meat” or hitting a deep spot of no return in an argument or conflict. We haven’t hit it yet. She claimed to be on the receiving end of hate crimes…real, imagined, suspicious, phony?  If she received threats who were they impacting, her perceived self or her real self? 

Part of it is our refusal to cut to the white meat of our deepest held cultural conceits. The script has been flipped in this case more than flapjacks at a pancake breakfast.  When enslaved Africans came to this country it was assumed that “seasoning” them and robbing them of their old ways was a blessing. It was not. In fact, the removal of many specific traditions weakened our family life, self-esteem, sense of communal responsibility and cultural ingenuity.  Ethnic traditions became a racialized hodge podge. We lost our ethnic verve – supposedly what drives everyone else to achieve and find their way into the American fabric—and we exchanged it for 400 years of battling for racial justice–to be seen as equal or good enough.

At the same time, what seemed like a great idea for Europeans in America, the loss of ethnic diversity as people began to take shape. You can be free free from your Italian, Irish, Jewish, or Slavic self. You can stop swinging from nooses on street poles, you can cease being told you “need not apply,” and those Old World blood libels are out the window. Over the course of a century, let’s say 1850-1950’s a new whiteness was born. Ethnic particularity died in favor of a user friendly whiteness that with some exceptions gave most European Americans reasonable social mobility.  It produced a whiteness that defined normality, superiority and a neutral base on which to build identities as creators and consummers. It also produced a bland industrial whiteness with no flavor. Whiteness became at best, a stew spiced with strong dashes of class and sexual identity flavored with borrowings from the non-white others. I gave up what made me special can I have some of yours?

Meanwhile back in Black America, the culture used scrips and scraps left over from Africa to spice a new stew, a vibrant one based on the constant need for uplift and to respond to oppression. We Black folk inherited a cause-based survival, from cradle to grave. The notion of the “struggle,” is so much a Black New World term you can even find it in Haitian Kweyol or Brazilian Portuguese.  Not only that, but an almost universal system of segregation helped encourage an interior world among people of color. Our culture became a response to a call…our language, our music, our religious life, all of it seemed to speak of our need to cling for dear life to our ancient roots, the challenge to prove our equality, the struggle against oppression and the creation of a world that white supremacy and hegemony could not dare penetrate.

If you look at it from that perspective, it’s not hard to go a little soft on Rachel.  White culture in America is a victim of its own urge to be Israel Zangwill’s “melting pot.” Black culture despite losing an enormous amount during our forced exile and humiliating assimilation process became meaningful and rich and interesting because it had goals and movements and aspirations. White culture’s urge towards appropriation rather than assimilation is not a surprise, it’s a symptom.

I wish Rachel Dolezal well in her search for her authentic self. Maybe she is the tan sister with the mixed-chick hair. Maybe she’s going to have a change of heart in how she expresses herself. Either way, her contributions for the good have been appreciated and if she wants in on our tribe, her application is already filled out.

Posted in Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

In Honor of National Soul Food Month: The Roots of Soul

It’s National Soul Food Month. Yes there is such a thing! I thought I might take you on a tour of one of the sources of soul, the early Chesapeake. I’ve written frequently about the Chesapeake being the first “Creole cuisine,” in mainland Anglo America.  That is, it’s the first in which Native American, West and Central African, and European foodways linked in the context of the larger Atlantic world and with it, an even larger African diaspora.

Soul Food is the memory cuisine of the great grandchildren of the enslaved, not the food that the enslaved ate.  The “proto – Southern” food, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Leni Sorensen, was breaking away from its British roots while acquiring carefully laced layers of other cultures, all negotiated in the hands and minds of thousands of diverse cooks. Some 80 plus different peoples made up this exchange…they were Pamunkey and Mbundu, Mende and French Hugenot, Bamana, Choctaw, Sephardic Jewish, Igbo, Scots-Irish and Canary Islander. What they created together was the root of the Southern and Soul Food traditions we know today. 

A few months ago, I worked with the African American Interpretive Department at Colonial Williamsburg to recreate an 18th century Southern meal reflective of the roots of African Virginians in the early Chesapeake and Tidewater. Training them and working with seasoned staff was incredible fun and I hope the pictures below give you just a hint of how good the food was and what to look forward to as the African American Historical Interpretive staff cooks several times a week at the Peyton Randolph House.

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The Way They Live, Thomas Anchutz, 1871

The Way They Live,” Thomas Anchutz, Virginia, 1871

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Harold Caldwell in a tobacco field.

Harold Caldwell in the tobacco fields at Great Hopes Plantation site, Colonial Williamsburg.

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The tobacco fields were where all this strted. Tobacco paid for American freedom during the Revolution. King Tobacco asked very little other than complete submission of time and space.  A diet based on corn, salted migratory fish and pork, bolstered by gardened, gathered, foraged, fished and hunted foods.

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Salted Blueback Herring

Salted herring. It makes complete sense, stinking fish was the first protein in West and Central African culinary traditions. Salt fish took its place in early slavery. The traditional West African stew would be stinking fish sautéed with onions with vegetables, tubers, leafy greens and lots of spices.

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Our West African stew..

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White Hominy

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Hominy, a Native American staple, replaced grain porridges from Europe and Africa and became an important factor in Black reproduction and normative improvement in health.  

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Salted pork was a staple seasoning for kitchens high and low.  The bits of meat were less important than the smoky, salty, peppery flavor they provided.

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Roasting whole ears of corn and sweet potatoes in ashes .

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Sweet potatoes roasted in ashes

Sweet potatoes roasted in the ashes of a fire. Stored in subfloor pits like these:

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From enslaved people’s gardens came many of the staples of soul. Corn and sweet potatoes joined cymling squash,

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Cushaw

sweet potato pumpkin,

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cowpeas,

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hot peppers,

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white potatoes,

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tomatoes, beans, okra, onions, watermelons and muskmelons and of course collard and turnip greens.

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Early American already noted the bounty of African American gardens!

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Okra Soup….

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And a very very rare treat, fried chicken and hot rolls or wafers. Black people were known as the “chicken merchants” of the Chesapeake region. Our Ancestors raised chickens, Guinea fowl, ducks, turkeys and geese for their eggs, feathers and meat–mostly for sale.

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And that’s delicious fried chicken the 18th century way.

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If you were enslaved to King Tobacco wheat bread was rare until the switch to grain was eminent.. as were wafers…we figured out this was definitely not 18th century…to have wafers with chicken! 

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We just had fun….

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And broiled stray chickens!

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food People and Food Places, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Poplar Forest cooking event focuses on food, culture of enslaved community – News – Lynchburg, Virginia Area – The News & Advance

http://m.newsadvance.com/news/local/poplar-forest-cooking-event-focuses-on-food-culture-of-enslaved/article_b3b00f04-0740-11e5-be9f-8b8847507fd5.html?mode=jqm

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food People and Food Places, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Publications, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who held the first Memorial Day celebration? | Michael W Twitty | Comment is free | The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/22/who-held-the-first-memorial-day-celebration

Enjoy this piece I wrote on the African American roots of Memorial Day. Blessings and honor on all our nation’s fallen, with a special thanks to soldiers of color and LGBT identity who despite slavery, reservations, interment camps and discrimination because of language, orientation, etc. fought and died for the American dream. Their sacrifice was more than meritorious, it was proof of hope.

Thank you.

Posted in African American Food History, Publications, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Invisible Chefs | First We Feast

http://firstwefeast.com/eat/the-invisible-chefs/?utm_campaign=fwf+socialflow+05+2015&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

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Please enjoy this piece I wrote for First We Feast on the lack of media attention to chefs of color.

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Events and Appearances, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments