“One Bad Dude”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/21/terence-crutcher-wasnt-bad-dude-just-black-man-in-america

This is the piece I wrote for the Guardian on Terence Crutcher.

I have not been able to sleep since I learned about his shooting/murder. Sometimes I’ve just burst into tears, and I never met the man.

I’m just almost 40, a big guy, and Black. So maybe I have met him. 

It was edited for length and content but I also wanted to share with you the original “Last Testament.” I want to assure you I don’t ascribe to respectability politics, however knowing the triggers the mainstream media uses to snare Black victims of police overreach often face, I included everything I knew that would go against the stereotypes that are often used to condemn Black men and women to death, to claim that our lives weren’t as worthy of saving…expressed clearly or covertly. Know that I love you sisters and brothers, and we must work together to fight injustice. When I see white, Native, Latinx, etc. people being treated in similar ways I can’t help but think this is a backlash against an America  that some don’t want to see take hold. We need to work together to end this as soon as possible. I’m scared…we are living in a time when water is not sacred and dogs are being sicced on Native children, when Black hands up doesn’t matter, when misogyny sells t-shirts, when poverty is aided and abetted by greed, when walls take precedence over understanding, and homophobia murders people in clubs. We need a healing. Now. 

Anyway, please read the piece and reflect on these words:

Please everybody listen…

If they ever get their hands on me..

I will sit silently until it’s over. But if they kill me..

Please bear witness that I was not “one bad dude.”

Please fight for my character.

Remind them I loved to read and I loved to create community.

Tell them that I was never arrested or detained for a crime, never owned a firearm, and that despite her history, I loved the South. 

Tell them I did not do drugs, abuse alcohol, and that I was a father to many, baby daddy to none, teacher of torah. 

Remind them I was a teddy bear and not a beast to shoot.

Remind them I worked to do good things and that I wrote a book and that I was a quote on a Smithsonian museum wall, a TED speaker, that I quoted Shakespeare verbatim in front of an audience of 2000 in London, spoke at Oxford University, and that I touched the Western Wall twice and spoke at Yale 3 times.  

Tell them I wasn’t “one bad dude,”

Tell them I was a strong, Black man.

#TerenceCrutcher #SAYHISNAME! 

Posted in Cultural Politics | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

In the Monticello Kitchen: A Photo Essay

I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, but I thought U would take time to address a few matters and share with you images from this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

First, it’s important that we acknowledge the life of beloved culinary anthropologist and journalist Vertamae Smart Grosvenor. Vertamae was a role model for many and a gorgeous talent and griot of many colors. I have to honor her further, but for now it is important for us here at Afroculinaria to wish blessings upon her family and pray that she rests in both peace and power. 

As we remembered Vertamae we climbed the mountain at Monticello and honored our common culinary AncestorsJames Hemings, Peter HemingsEdith Fossett, Frances Hern–the Black cooks of Monticello who innovated a cuisine that according to none other than Daniel Webster, was “Half-Virginian and Half-French in style, served in good taste and abundance.”

One of my long term mentors and heroes, Dr. Leni Sorensen, former Senior Director of African American research at Monticello asked me to fill in for Paula Marcoux and it was a great afternoon for ourselves and our sold out class who came to learn how to prepare chicken fricassee, okra and tomatoes, apple compote and creamed cabbage out of The Virginia Housewife written by Mary Randolph in 1824, arguably, the first Southern cookbook.  

It was a thrill to not only cook in the same space as Edith and Fanny, but to know that the Hemings descendants were there to see me teach and approve of the message I gave on Mulberry Row, site of the former slave quarters at Monticello. I want to thank Soula Pefkaros, Niya Bates, Leni Sorensen, and Tonya Hopkins for the use of their outstanding photographs to tell the story of the day.

Meet the Monticello kitchen with its hearth and stew stoves, powered by charcoal.

Copper cooking utensils and a bake oven tell us that fine cooking was a priority here.

From a rich and diverse garden and from the productive  gardens of the enslaved came an astonishing variety of early Southern produce.

We got an early delivery from my friend Pat Borowdowski, the gardener at Monticello. 

Heirloom tomatoes grown on the mountain from a Kentucky source.

The bathroom in which I changed into an outfit suitable for James was the same space he originally cooked in. 

The only thing Jefferson ever touched in this kitchen was this clock.

We were pleased to have access to Albemarle pippins, a venerable old Virginia apple. 

Dr. Leni starts the day by breaking up kindling.

Our utensils are seasoned and ready to go.

We plan the day’s class.

Divas Forever!

I sit for a portrait.

Dr. Leni cuts up the chickens for fricassee.

We layer the okra and tomatoes.

The chicken bubbles away on the stew stove, with the window providing ventilation.

Close up of the stew stove.

One dish down.

Everything is done.

A crowd of 60 at Mulberry Row ready to watch me barbecue a cotton tail rabbit and make okra soup with chicken. 

As farm to table as I have ever been.

Sermon on the bird pepper!

Greeting Marilyn Dobbins, a fellow interpreter , who has for many years brought Mulberry Row to life.

Rabbit seasoned with herbs, onions, hot peppers, salt ready for hominy and soup.

Slightly charred but tender and delicious feller..

Giving a talk on The Cooking Gene to another audience of 60.

That awesome time I got to share the stage with culinary heroes, Chef Patrick O’Connell, Master Horticultural Genius and Seed Saver Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Dr. David Shields, author of Southern Provusions, and Master Farmer, Mr. Joel Salatin!

Hope you enjoyed this!

Love and peace..and soul food, Michael 

#Dont forget we need your support, please consider sending a small donation to our PayPal at koshersoul@gmail.com  

This work is NEVER ending and your help keeps us going. 

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Elders and Wise Folk | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

See My Quote on the Wall

When you visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, look on the walls of the Sweet Home Café  and you will see this:

This acknowledgement of our Ancestors and of my work to honor them is beyond moving and important to me. I am part of history, in the architectural family album of African America and I am profoundly humbled. I didn’t know I’d be on that wall, but now that I know I am…everyone of you who read and support this blog and my work are right up on that wall with me. The museum staff has gone to great lengths to include food history and foodways  in its interpretive mission and educational efforts. Please see this museum, go, show your support and your enthusiasm! 

I hope you have a meaningful and profound visit no matter your background. I already love the #NMAAHC not because I’m in it, but because it’s necessary. #apeoplesjourney 

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Elders and Wise Folk, Events and Appearances, Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

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 , , , , | 14 Comments

Don’t Forget to Vote!

http://www.saveur.com/blog-awards-2016-vote

Vote everyday, once a day for Afroxulinaria and The Culture of Collards!!

It’s free! It’s fast! It’s a really big deal. We love you 


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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 , , , | 1 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.   

freyre_busto

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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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#savblogawards

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