Why this Blog?

Why this Blog?

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I wanted to create a new cultural vocabulary around food that would draw on our best yearnings to make the politics of food work for everybody not just a few.  I don’t have much to say about flavor profiles, buzz words, textures or references to the sensations food causes in my mouth.  I don’t come from connoisseurs, I come from survivors and people who have never been able to sit still long enough to assess anything beyond the joy that food can give them or the pain it can assuage.

I was challenged early on when I started www.Afroculinaria.com to not focus so much on the people and their stories, and my story and to instead give up the secrets of soul—to open up our collective chest and let people play with our heart—and I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t want to smile when I needed to cry and I didn’t want to cry when all I wanted to do was smile. I wanted my emotions to be in sync with my spirit.  I knew that couldn’t happen if I did what everybody else was doing.

At some point I realized that there was passion and there was obsession and then there was the need to speak to the needs that everyday people had when it came to food.  There are starving foodies.  There are people whose food cultures are gold but they aren’t collecting the interest on the cultural capital of what their Ancestors have brought to the fore.  There are people who are not content to see their neighbors lack and there are people for whom they need more from their food than just temporary satisfaction—they need it to be a vehicle—an emotional, intellectual, cultural, spiritual vehicle—and they want more connection when they come to the table.

I really do believe in the idea of a “cooking gene,” it is of course not the “gene” of biological predestination, but gene in its earliest sense—a word fraught with connotations of genealogy, descent, heritage and pedigree-something you can grasp—if you seek it with all you’ve got.  Your full self needs to be at stake.  I don’t think that cooking genes are black or white—I think they are neutral.  I think they are colored with and full of potential for us to learn from each other and grow beyond our bubbles, boxes and boundaries that we put up because the thought of putting up our grievances scares us more than the consequences of connection.

I want people to know that Afroculinaria is not just Black, its many colors.  It is however, unashamedly based in the idea that people of African descent have a unique and undeniably important story to tell the rest of the human family about food—and we love this race that our most ancient mothers gave birth to—and love the planet we share with our cousins across haplogroups and phenotypes, ethnic groups and languages.  There is a place for the “Universal,” in us, a center, a wellspring, a mirror for the humanity of all.  I say with great pride it is not my goal to end that celebration here but make you, my reader, a participant, a fellow devotee of the idea that the story of our gifts and the revelations we have to share have only just begun.

I don’t want to be like the rest, although I celebrate and honor them for bringing beauty into the world through pictures and words.  Their job is to further the passion we all have for food and to add to our lives by being grateful and celebrating the opportunity to live and eat—on our own or together.  The human stories that many food bloggers bring are humans in search of bettering their craft, loving some ingredient or dish or complex of foods so much that every secret is squeezed out, and the love and pain we face as we try to perfect our product for the brief moment before it is devoured and lingers only on palates and the brain.  Yes, other food bloggers—forging the tradition—I salute you and love you because you inspire me despite my lonely niche.

There’s something special about choosing not to be like the rest but knowing that it’s not as easy, knowing the limitations, facing the voices that tell you not to “be,” not to exist.  This blog has not always been my best friend. It is often a very nasty reminder of my own intellectual claustrophobia, the blog captures the attention of people who think I’m a snake-oil salesman, people who need to exercise overt racism, and people who simply don’t get me and don’t want to.  I’ve had to learn that all of this is part of the act of blogging and that nobody should feel sorry for me—especially me.  Appreciating your followers and readers means loving them so much that the disses don’t matter and that your immunity comes from how much you acknowledge the necessity of your journey.

Food bloggers unite.  We all have self-doubt. We all have the thrill of knowing we have inspired someone to be fearless in the kitchen, or in my case—cook on a plantation.  We know the blank-outs and mind-wanderings, we know what it is like to be so full of inspiration that you can’t sleep, and we are irritated when the perfect shot is just shy of unattainable. We do this because we are more than inspired, more than passionate, more than alive, and more than hungry. We do this because we are called to ingest by nature, and called to make it meaningful by nurture.

I am necessarily and painfully excited.  There are really more things we need to cook, argue about, discuss and revel in our rivalries.  I have managed—some say successfully-some say not—to cut out a little mouse hole in a vast architecture of worlds about a four letter word.

“Food.”

Posted in Elders and Wise Folk, Food and Slavery, Food People and Food Places, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

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Posted in Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How a Brazilian Scholar Inspired My Search for the Roots of Soul Food

All historic images were sourced from www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

WHEN I was about eleven or twelve years old my grandfather gave me a book that inspired me to see the world in a broader context.  The book was called The Masters and the Slaves, or its original title:  Casa-Grande & Senzala.   

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Gilberto Freye was Brazil’s foremost cultural historian-sociologist.  The paperback book my Grandfather gave me was well worn by the time I put my hands on it.  It was a thick tome, describing a world very familiar but exotic–a world build on Native American, African and European cultures thrust together in the Atlantic world.  It was published in 1932 and was perhaps his most famous study of the development of Brazilian civilization.

The last two chapters of the book, rich in material and quite raw in truth were called “The Negro Slave,” the second of the two delved fully into the food culture of enslaved of Brazil, focusing mostly on northeast Brazil and Amazonia and Rio De Janeiro where the enslavement of Africans in Brazil was particularly dense and essential to the rice, sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco plantations as well as the mines and the construction of roads and cities and the casas grandes–the Big Houses–that held rule over thousands of Africans.  Brazil imported more enslaved Africans than any other location in the New World.  It swallowed many of their bodies whole–most did not live 7-10 years beyond their arrival if that.  

A device used to punish Brazilian enslaved for stealing food, ingesting dirt or intoxication. A metal mask…

Between 1502 and 1866–5.5 millions left on ships from West, Central and Southeastern Africa and under 4.9 million arrived alive.  Rio and Salvador Da Bahia were two of the New World’s largest slave ports, with arrivals dwarfing anything seen in North America and the Caribbean.  Slavery in Brazil began in the 16th century and ended in 1888–a full twenty-three years after the end of the Civil War in the United States.

Enslaved Brazilians preparing Cassava/Manioc.

So I was 12 I didn’t have the internet to tell me anything about Africans in Brazil.  But this book-a few years shy younger than my maternal grandfather—told me about family further down the Atlantic coast.  Now, looking back, knowing I have genetic cousins in Brazil, among other places in the Black New World; knowing that some of my blood came to North America and some went to South America –it makes the connection to Black Brazil that much more emotional, strong, and yes in some ways painful and bewildering.  However this Brazilian scholar–definitely proud of the contribution of Africans to the lifeblood of his country–gave the grandest account of the African origins to the Brazilian palate.

Angou–corn, Cassava or rice porridge sold at market.

Freyre’s version of Brazilian civilization the importance of the enslaved African to the Brazilian kitchen was crystal clear:  “There is one important aspect of the Brazilian that remains to be stressed, and that is the culnary aspect. The African slave dominated the colonial kitchen, enriching it with new flavors.”

To Gilberto Freyre, the culinary heritage of Brazil was inseparable from the cuisines of other parts of the New World–he studied in Texas and traveled throughout the American South–including South Carolina and New Orleans, describing a South Carolina estate as “a real Northern Brazilian plantation manor..with the best kitchen in the environs of Columbia. In New Orleans also, I tasted sweets and confections with the pleasing flavor of Africa, putting me in mind of those of Bahia and Pernambuco.  Especially the dishes prepared from chicken with rice and okra.” It was telling he described the two parts of Brazil most affected by West African culture–especially that of Senegambia and the Slave Coast. “The genius involved was that of the African slave woman rather than that of the the white mistress.”

Market women

Freyre was keen to speak honestly about what he saw as elements of Brazilian kitchen culture.  The Afro-Brazilian impact was felt in the markets, the Big House kitchen, the taverns of the cities, from the cultivation of the ground and harvesting of the sea and rivers to the settlements of maroons in the rainforest–some were even independent states nearly lasting a century. Their food was tied to their other major contributions–music, religion–Candomble and Umbanda–and language. “The slaves employed in the Big Houses had highly specialized functions, and two or sometimes three of them were always reserved for work in the kitchen.  Ordinarily these were enormous black women, but occasionally they were male Negroes who were unsuited for hard labor but who were without rival in the preparation of culinary sweets and confections. These later were always very effiminate…They were the greatest chefs of colonial times, as they still are today.” Freyre recognized there were gay enslaved people and yes, Virginia, they played a role in shaping the foodways of his nation.

Vatapa  (Wikipedia)

If you don’t know Brazilian food–its an amazing amalgam of Portuguese, Tupi, Tupuia, Gurani, and other Native American traditions, and the traditions of the Manding, the Wolof, the Balanta, the Manjac, the Bubi, the Yoruba, the Fon, the Akan, the Kongo, Kimbundu, Yao and Makua.  From this mixture came the national dish feijoada–a bean dish from Portugal with African flavors and trappings–and the main condiment–melegueta pepper—actually not the West African melegueta–but bird chilies that season everything.  Okra, black eyed peas, pigeon peas, hot peppers, rice, tomatoes, spare parts of the pig, fresh seafood, piquant sauces, leafy greens, sesame, collard greens, tropical fruits and sugar cane–and the ubiquitous dende oil–palm oil–defined the African relationship to Brazilian food.

Acarajé (Wikipedia)

Freyre’s Bahia, Rio and Pernambuco were the old Brazil…a place not dissimilar to the pre-emancipation Caribbean or the old South. The streets of Brazil smelled of rice pudding, fried fish, roasting ears of corn, calves and pigs feet, sweet corncakes, sugarcane rolls, collard greens, bits of slow roasted snd heavily spices meat, couscous, popcorn, okra stews, ginger, garlic, fiery hot chili sauces, peanuts with cumarí and pé de mulceque–a peanut candy literally named “foot of a Negro boy.” Sound familiar? 

Africa provided dendê oil–from ndende–the orange palm oil–the basis of deep frying and sauté for stews, maxixé–the burr gherkin, acarajé the black eyed pea fritter, caruru–the Brazilian answer to callalloo and vatapá a popular dish made with coconut milk, palm oil, shrimp, and hot peppers, and they preserved acaça, balls of pounded dough eaten with stew from Dahomey and cuxa, a leafy green sauce from Senegal. These African hallmarks merged with Native Brazilian fruits, nuts, fish and game merged with Portuguese standards like caldo verde and feijao and the olive oils and wines of the mother country. The Afro-Islamic influence of the Moors–with their spices, sweetmeats, and other elements of Northwest Africa and the Arab world complicated this cuisine. Many Jews and Moriscos–Muslim converts fled to Brazil in the early years of the colony to escape the Inquisition. Many of the foods beloved by Brazilians were directly tied to the worship of the Orixa–the deities of the Yoruba traditional religion. Feijoada is associated with Ogun, acarajé with Iyansan/Oya, popcorn with Omolu, acaça and cachaça with Exu, and fresh with Yemoja. 

I encourage you to read The Masters and The Slaves. Freyre was not without his faults or controversies but this book did something no work of serious scholarship did about American slavery until recent years. I hope to continue his legacy and bring greater awareness to the heritage of Africans in the United States and honor my blood cousins in Brazil. I cannot believe how important this small book has impacted me. I say  obrigado, to my grandfather and old ones (the pretos velhos)for their guidance. AXÉ!!

 Dedicated to judoka Rafaela Silva–congratulations on your gold medal at the Rio Olympics 2016-the Egun are so proud of you!! As so are all of us!
  

Don’t forget to vote Afroculinaria for Best Food and Culture blog on Saveur! 

 

 

 

Posted in African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Food and Slavery, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Vote for Afroculinaria for the Saveur Blog Awards 2016!

I am pleased to announce that http://www.Afroculinaria.com has been nominated for a Saveur Blog Award!  Afroculinaria is under the Food and Culture Blog category.  Specifically my letter to Sean Brock was nominated.  Please vote for me, it’s free! You can vote everyday, once a day until August 31st.  This will be such a great opportunity if we achieve this!  Please consider voting for The Culture of Collards as well in the Video category!  Please be sure to also share this blog post or the voting page far and wide, especially on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.


Update to the story–both Sean Brock and Jeff Allen and I have talked and agree that  we have more in common than we don’t, we are also working towards healing and reconciliation so that we can create a more just and prosperous culinary scene for us  all.  I spoke with Chef Brock on the phone and we continue to be in touch.  Jeff Allen and I sat down to a meal face to face and got a chance to figure out the real issues behind our frustrations. I believe that its easy to have misunderstandings but it betters us all to have civil conversation human to human and examine our common aims.  Peace has been made, progress is on the way.  Somewhere in America, there is sanity.

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Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Southern or Soul?

“What’s the difference between Southern food and soul food?” is perhaps the number one question we African American food writers get from the media.

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“Ours just tastes better,” jokes Toni-Tipton Martin, author of award-winning The Jemima Code.  Adrian Miller,author of the also award-winning Soul Food, chalks it up to spicier, saltier, fattier, more sugary extremes in terms of palate.  I have been known to hit an audience with “one is flavored with oppression, the other with liberation–you decide which one.” All facts, figures and quips aside, we are no closer to the answer.  It would perhaps behoove us to ask a better question.  Why do we care?  Why even acknowledge a distinction between “Southern,” and “Soul,” at all?  What will it tell us about ourselves—the question tells us more about who we are than does the answer.

I have consistently said that soul food is the memory cuisine of the great and great-great-grandchildren of enslaved people.  Soul is the descendant looking back on an edible text that supposedly defines his shell and accounts for her essence.  It is the vernacular meal, the country bits, the funkiness of Blackness, the gastronomic equivalent to the visual, aural and oral elements of being colored in America.  Soul is not a reaction to the world from without, rather it is a consolidation of the narrative from within African American civilization, a necessary and expedient reduction of the complexity of our story into a repeatable, reliable, sustainable menu that dances between the Big House and the quarters, weekday miseries and holiday treasures.  Soul food is a condensed version–1619-to maybe 1960–a survey of everything that came before the moment we could wait no longer to be—American.

Southern is often code or short hand for white folks, or less often said but equally true, the rest of the South’s understanding of food with a flexible “door,” by which we enter and exit.  I have often found problematic that Southern-not only in the white mind but the black mind–which is to say just more plainly–human minds with different facades–perceive Southernness as something that can be compartmentalized.  Don’t get me wrong–our experience of the Southern narrative has never been completely the same and it was never intended to be.  When white people say “Southern,” it seems to be a fixed geography, a stance, a box, an otherness and perhaps a different species of nationlism.  When black people say Southern it seems to be a calling card, a reference to our “Old Country,” a nod to tradition.

But Southern and Soul are not cultural antipodes.  They are reference points in the cloud of memory.  The Southern soul was shaped by the African presence and following it, the Afri-Creole world and its colored, Negro, Black and African American  descendant selves.  Racial caste, a non-delight imposed on us rather than self-engendered made assumptions about the inherent difference of these close cousins–we were and are blood relatives–and always will be.  This perhaps renders the distinction moot–but we haven’t really understood this until now, that the white Southerner was a creation not just of the melding and meddling that happened long before he or she was a thought; but merely a product of the oppositional stance history granted said person.  As long as the white Southerner was the opposite of all that was not white, the white Southerner’s sense of “Southern” would be trapped in the amber of false power, a sense that he was Adam and she was Eve and the naming of creation belonged to them.

Meanwhile black Southerners were not only above in numbers and beyond in reach  in relation to Anglo America, they were products of an Atlantic World that essentially represented their expansion into the Western hemisphere long before the Americas were conceived as a “New Europe.”  In our blood remain the codes for the building blocks of Las Americas.  The Caribbean, Brazil, South and Central America, Mexico—all of it kissed with the touch or unending embrace of West, Central and Southeastern Africa.  Because of this, the supposed dichotomy of Southern vs. Soul cannot be read as a stand alone debate.  After all, could not the same be said about Cuba or Brazil or other places where the integration of Africa into the national mind is non-negotiable even if race, class and power are ever-shifting and frustratingly  murky.  As old an varnished as the term may be, the United States’ claim to Melting Pots and Salad Bowls has failed its place among the “Mulatto States of the Americas,” where it is clear something happened here that was not the replication of Western Europe or the British Isles, and even the navigation of native/indigenous selves was sausaged into the castings of salt vs. pepper, or in our case, Southern vs. Soul.

We are powerfully divided by concepts even though we are together in many ways, namely in spirit.  It is ironic that the burden of claiming and associating with unity has been consistently yoked to the Black man and woman rather than those whose sense of whiteness and the poisonous notion of “race,” can be traced back to the unholy marriage of chattel slavery and mercantilism and empire of the 17th century.  Black people are left with the job of dismantling prescriptions we had no hand in creating to assuage the just returns of those prescriptions–emotional and cultural dregs of anger, resentment, retarded growth an arrested or limited power that stain and imbue our lens, leaving us wrestling Dixie.

I suggest that we abandon the need to bring peace through ambiguity.  We want lines to melt and meld and its  not “all the same food,” food is not divisible by open claims of ownership but rather by necessary texts of meaning. Soul is the dialogue between past and present in search of a sustaining culinary narrative, Southern is an exercise in quasi-national cultural identity built on distinctions and oppositional character–these notions don’t emerge from the same place nor do they sound the same tone.  The conversation in which they are often both rather carelessly bandied about has the same end–to discern place, to account for the “location” of cook and eater, and to organize communities of eaters into manageable boxes.

These boxes–are the problem.  Look, kalach and paska is braided eggy Easter and holiday bread, it is not challah–which is also eggy braided bread.  They are cousins but they are not the same even if they have similar cultural functions and have a similar taste.  The relationship between Eastern Europe and its Ashkenazi Jewish minority is a tortuous journey, but the language, food, music, aesthetics and genes of Ashkenazi Jews are full of reminders that the Slavs among whom they found one thousand years of sojourn did not remain aloof.  The Shoah erased the unutterable truth that separations imposed by centuries of West meets East anti-Semitism could not halt the interpenetration of civilizations.  Despite all of this we remain addicted to the boxes that say there was once a true “us,” and a true “them.”

Come back to the South.  We know it was a confluence of cultures and people meeting and mixing up and down the ladders of caste, racial power, social capital and cultural bleeding. Is there room outside of our boxes that will allow us to re-imagine Southern and Soul as ideas that are less cognate than they are complimentary?  We can acknowledge a common family tree,  give nod to “the world they made together,” to similarity of contexts and even of forms, but to suggest a notion of Southern vs. Soul or Southern or Soul is missing the point.  This is a dialogue and dialectic of Southern and Soul.  Southern is soul and soul even outside of the South is Southern.  White folks who testify to love of okra do not nullify the original transactions that led to the Africanization of European Americans beneath the Mason-Dixon as the adoption of breads and macaroni and cheese and many other foods do not negate the power dynamic occupied by white culture on the American plantation.

Okra and Macaroni and Cheese–without a great dissertation, are good examples.  Okra is something northwest Europeans found on the way to being American.  It is something that tells me that I am not just American, but I have a story before America.  Macaroni and cheese (aka macaroni pie) tells me that I am incomplete without my American and before that continental European story even while I am the latest chapter of Africa’s move across the globe and into time and across boxes.  That my white Southern cousins can choose or deny our desire to serve these foods at the same restaurant or occasion is a matter of preference, but when they sit side by side on their plates or mine, they tell different stories about our journeys to the plate. These journeys are Southern and Soul and beyond–they are Western and African Diaspora, they are Atlantic World and Las Americas, they are Afro-Atlantic and Anglo-American.  It is our ability to perceive and appreciate the layers of history and self that spice our food that makes it so, not whether or not it can be neatly boxed and labeled as Southern or Soul.

Don’t forget: 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Slaves were well-fed? Seldom, says historian | The Charlotte Observer

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/ill-bite-blog/article93076552.html

Enjoy some video and this tidy write up from Kathleen Purvis! See you for dinner next time!

If you like the work I’m doing here please consider supporting what we do on PayPal….donate via the button on the desktop site or just send what you feel like to koshersoul@gmail.com, every little bit counts. We are Africa bound. 

Don’t forget to vote daily:

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill O’Reilly thinks slaves were ‘well fed’. So will he eat like one for a week? | Michael Twitty | Opinion | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/27/bill-oreilly-slaves-eat-well

Haven’t heard from Bill O’ yet…however my offer still stands, I’ll cook him the food enslaved people ate on the regular for a week, two meals a day–and we will talk about who is well fed….and the nature of food in the enslaved community…

Read on…and share!

If you like the work I’m doing here please consider supporting what we do on PayPal….donate via the button on the desktop site or just send what you feel like to koshersoul@gmail.com, every little bit counts. We are Africa bound. 

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Food and Slavery, Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment