Don’t Come for Me Unless I Send For You…

​You wish I was just a “folk historian….”

I am not a “folk historian”..There are scholars of folklore and they do beautiful work, but when you say “folk historian,” with no hyperlinks to my work or further background your dismissive, “Can you really trust this guy?/he’s full of blather” perspective comes through. One of my friends on social media commented: “As a folklorist I will say that, from the POV of journalists, a “folk historian” is someone who does a kind of hearsay history that they don’t recognize as legitimate.”

I am a free man of color who is about to school you on how not to call a free man of color out of his name. I am a culinary historian. You are not.  I am the descendant of enslaved Africans, you are not. I am a historic chef. You are not. I had to fight for everything I’ve become and every name I have earned. None of it was handed to me and none can be taken away. I played by your culture’s rules of bootstraps and meritocracy and I deserve more than simple reductions by entitled food media who think they can dismiss me and my truth without providing links or a nuanced and informed introduction. You never carry the same baggage and therefore you will always lack a certain degree of caché because you called me a “Northern food writer” and shot tropes at me on social media about being aggressive, being an outsider and told your readership that I didn’t deserve to be “a lead voice.” Imagine if I told you, a white woman and fellow Jew, what you “deserved.” Or if I qualified and passed judgment on the value of your “voice.” You can disagree with someone and still respect them and clearly you do not.
While you’re at it…just keep my name out of your paper until you can address me and my point of view with respect and acknowledge that these hands that were never meant to do more than pick cotton, tobacco or rice are the same hands that make me your COLLEAGUE.

Why don’t you tell your readers how I WON TWO SAVEUR BLOG AWARDS FOR MY LETTER TO SEAN. I am a TED Fellow. I am one of the first Smith Fellows with the Southern Foodways Alliance. I am the first Taste Talks Culinary Pioneer Award winner. I am one of First We Feast’s greatest food bloggers of all time. I have spoken from Oxford, England to Oxford, Mississippi and just so you know I can trace my ancestry back to the Mende, Temne, Fula, Kongo, and Akan that arrived here on slave ships to Charleston. 

Tell them how I out reached to Sean and other white chefs in the South (btw, I didn’t have to, I chose to.)

Tell them how complex this is instead of attempting to reduce me to a fraud with some flippant line.

If all you can do is write about Kevin, BJ and Mashama over and over again (and they should have MUCH MORE FOR THEIR HARD WORK) and whitesplain criticism….where am I wrong?

So bye&when HarperCollins publishes my book I suggest you and company read it.

And weep. That’s all. Burn after reading. I’m not mean. I don’t have an attitude. Nobody’s perfect or has all the answers. I love being a sweet person and encouraging love but if people don’t still want to treat you right, you just have to say “folk off.”

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why I Don’t Do “Race.”


The minute I say that I’m African American people cast that word “race,” on me faster than the net that they used to catch Kunta Kinte in Roots.

Race is a dangerous concept and it’s source, the evolution of the Western response to human differences and diversity, from treating non-Europeans as titillating alien curiosities to enslaved chattel, colonial subjects and global pawns in a game of winner take all; is the end result of 2000 years of wrangling over what human means, what the divine means, what our destiny means when it doesn’t look like us.

African American is not a race. African American is a cultural designation.  It’s as socio-political as Black, Negro, Colored, before it.  Its an old term, first appearing in print in America in the late 18th century.  Jesse Jackson didn’t invent it and please don’t bore me with “you’re not African,” because it’s up to each person of African descent coming from the line of those who came here enslaved or in earlier migrational waves to define themselves according to their own will.  Just because I define myself as a part of the larger African, African Diaspora and African Atlantic and African American families doesn’t mean anybody else should.  We can and should tolerate different and distinct understandings of self and nation.

Let’s get back to this “race,” thing.  Race is an illusion, a concept with a complex history.  Nothing drives me crazier than to hear the phrases, “I don’t care what race you are.”  “I have friends of different races.”  or “I don’t see race.”

You can’t see some shit that’s not there.

Race is not real. Race is lazy shorthand for a complex mixture of ethnotype, genotype and phenotype every human finds themself imprisoned in.

Ethnotype–the culture most human beings find themselves born into, which itself is usually a fluid and complex blend of a people’s sense of uniqueness bound up with geographical limitations, genetic groupings and a certain body of looks and appearances that are both made by nature and nurture.

You can be a certain genotype (what we cannot see) and phenotype (what we can see) but not identify with an ethnotype (ethnicity, culture, nationality) people might pigeon hole us as or file our appearance.

Genotype–your genes–your particular DNA mixture, your scientific recipe, they can be from all over and they are mostly indistinguishable from other human beings.  However the part that is distinguishable, that tiny little sliver, is the hand you’re dealt that makes people see your phenotype and may make them assume your ethnotype.

Your genotype can obscure and often does, the fact that most human beings in the global flow of civilizations have admixtures that reflect migration, war, sexual violation, romantic unions, trade and re-settlement.  Our genes until recently were obscured parts of how we viewed ourselves.  We assumed mixtures based on tradition and appearances, but we had no clue that a single individual could reflect so many different heritages–genetic and ethnic.  Imagine for example if Bruno Mars–who is European Jewish, Puerto Rican and Filipino took a DNA test.  His DNA would reflect Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Native America, and Asia and the Pacific Rim.  But what does his genotype and phenotype tell you if you didn’t know it was Bruno?

Phenotype–how you look.  Your hair, eyes, butt, skin type, color, and other physical features. Some are endemic to certain ethnotypes with specific genotypes.  Again there is an interplay between how nature makes us look, how nurture makes us identify and how genes affect our destiny in uneven ways–sometimes predictable and other times as a crapshoot.

Your phenotype can lie.  Your phenotype can give you away.  Your phenotype can tell stories and hide others.  Phenotype is not an accurate way to determine a person’s cultural orientation or ethnic or national identity and it is an inaccurate way of gauging a person’s feelings about their complete self.  The way we react to people’s phenotype often conflates with assumptions we make about their character, behavior, identity and understanding of the world–this is where bias, stereotyping, racism and prejudice come into play.

Race may be an illusion but racism is real.  Racism is about power.  Racism begins with the assumption that ethnotype, genotype and phenotype form immutable sub-species of the one human race.  As far as we know, the human race is not breakable into different races.  Yes, different genotypes carry with them distinct ways in which phenotypes manifest.  My hair and inherited health profile is significantly different from a white Southern male with whom I share a great deal of culture, history and identity.  We don’t have the same barber, skin products or guidelines for how to manage our health.  That sliver of difference and the difference in our larger histories as members of ethnotypes and individual shape the destiny we are given.  It’s not racist to acknowledge those differences which are for the mot part, inevitable.  It is racist to work within a power dynamic and use that to oppress or suppress one of us. Race the social construct is a weapon that has murdered millions, racism is a leading undiagnosed cause of death. 

There are bigots in all colors and types.  Bigotry is largely about our insecurities as part of the human family, old hurts, new pains and cultural and scientific misunderstandings.  Bigots may or may not have the power to inflict pain or pass on the cycle of genetic, cultural or physical insecurity known as racism.  There have been, in the past 500 years, racists in many colors, but power is largely the arbiter of who’s bigotry flowers into the big ugly Raffelsia arnoldii of racism.  It is an unfortunate truth that the Western world has promulgated the greatest amount of racism, and this cancer has ebbed and flowed from victor to victim for about a millennium or so.

When I was a little kid, I had issues with physical self-hatred.  I didn’t understand why I wasn’t handsome or pretty like white people.  I didn’t understand that this was a completely arbitrary and unnatural response to my own reflection.  People tried to sow doubts in my head about my intelligence, my motives, my abilities.  However my mother, father, grandparents and other people raged against the cult of anti-Black racism that undergirded (undergirds?) our national culture and Western civilization in some permutations.  Self-love began to emerge.  I began to appreciate according to my own understanding the complex meeting of my ethnic heritage, my genes and my physical features.

At the same time, I began to appreciate other people’s unique braids in the same way you might assess jewelry or sculpture. Terence, the African, the ancient Roman poet of African birth famously said, “I am human, nothing human is alien to me.”  I appreciate my people (s) and braids and hold them central in my focus and affection.  However I think its a waste of the human experience to not look at all the rest of humanity and see the opportunity to learn from these gem like expressions of the Adam-creature, this woman, this man, this gender fluid thing called a human, made of earth and star matter, infused with a spirit that is in all cases human and according to many divine.

We are family, a human family and we must make peace with our divisions as much as we make gestures towards our commonality.  We are family, a human family, and we are charged with resolving our historic wrongs as well as making a future that is free of the pock marks of our past.  Killing off terminology like “social justice,” or “identity politics,” won’t stop what annoys you….we will always have a need to protect the marginalized and oppressed and those categories will shift and gentrify and ghettofy; and at the same time we are all bound up in identities we seem programmed to believe have always been and have no beginning or end.  We know we are wrong, we know we are both past and present and seeding a very diferent future, but we think we are unchanging, charmingly static and frozen in purity.


Hell naw.

Meet Michael.

He doesn’t believe in race but he acknowledges the power of racism and knows it is not one thing, but a Madagascar of socio-cultural ills full of names we haven’t had the courage to name and claim, but when we do we are not perpetuating racism but destroying it, acknowledging it is an illusion that can unravel the innate truths we carry in our bodies and bones.

He acknowledges culture.  Culture is real. Culture is not perfect, it is always flawed, it is almost always a bid greedy, jealousy, covetous, insecure, wide eyed and plagaristic.  It is also resilient, elastic, and sexy.  It is all we really have other than our natural inclinations but we are more afraid to explore culture than anything else.

He acknowledges genes and appearances.  There are beautiful people and there are ugly people and neither has anything to do with genes or aesthetics.

I don’t do race because simply put, to paraphrase Pearl Bailey, I want to see G-d everyday in my fellow human beings and I don’t want miss the opportunity.  Food gives this amazing opportunity to taste the richness of the library of human knowledge, life as this precious, achingly terminable experience that we are privileged to enjoy in increments of seconds and breaths.  Food melts and melds genes, appearances and ethnicity and nationality in ways that are package ready, malleable and sweet.  It is no less complicated, contestable, difficult and laced with the importance of unraveling the human story, but it is a way in to peace.



Posted in Elders and Wise Folk, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Michael Twitty Will Become a Culinary Star in 2017 | | Observer

This piece by David Wallis is here to highlight my forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene. (August 2017, HarperCollins). I’m frank and confessional in this interview and what can I say, I’m just me. Enjoy.

Posted in Events and Appearances, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Corn Shaped the Black Culinary Experience/Southern Foodways Alliance 2016.

My presentation at the Southern Foodways Alliance 2016 on corn and the story of the African Diaspora and American slavery. Please enjoy and share! WARNING…I have NO CHILL IN THIS TALK.

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Watch “Gastronomy and the social justice reality of food | Michael Twitty” on YouTube/My TED talk!

My #TED talk is up, watch it here! I’ve waited a long time for this, and I hope you enjoy it as much I shivered doing it 🙂 feel free to share far and wide!

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

come see me Thursday night

I’ll be at the Museum of Food and Drink in New York City! 


There will be food! Get tickets ASAP! 

Get your okra on! 

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Crops of African Origin or African Diffusion in the Americas

So–Some of you have come to me with the question about the African origins of crops found in the Americas.  I want to give simple answers here so you have something at your fingertips.

Let’s talk about crops in the African Atlantic World—everybody is moving them around–Africans, Arab traders, Southeast Asian mariners, Europeans.  Europeans move around certain crops as they create castle and fortress after castle and fortress on the coast to establish the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  See Stanley Alpern’s work for solid documentation on each and every crop or foodstuff and how it was incorporated.  Judith Carney has done excellent scholarship with her books Black Rice and In the Shadows of Slavery, complete with charts showing crops of African origin.  Some foreign crops had been in Africa for so long that they diversified under the hand of Africans–like plantains and bananas, mangoes, and taro.  By the time these crops arrive in the Americas, they arrive from Africa with Africans as part of the slave trade.  There would be no American banana republics without first African bananas–and banana–is a word brought into European languages from Wolof, the main language of Senegal–a coastal nation and historically a major part of the slave trade.  Coffee is a crop of African origin–from Ethiopia–and but there were coffee varieties across the Sahel and down into Central Africa–(Coffea stenophylla and C. excelsa) but no C. “Arabica,”  in Brazil and Jamaica and Haiti without it first diffusing from Africa to Arabia and through the Levant to Europe, but Africans from across the continent knew what to do with it.

The yams of West Africa are not sweet potatoes, however sweet potatoes did fit well into cultures already used to relying on root crops.  When Africans encounter sweet potatoes as enslaved people they utilized them in ways similar to tropical yams.  Later, African varieties of sweet potato, like the Dahomey sweet potato, cross the Atlantic ocean and come to America.  Millet, sorghum, guinea grass and other forage and grain crops make multiple appearances.  Kola nuts and tamarind and varieties of oil palm may never have made it to the U.S. (as they did in Brazil and other parts of tropical Latin America) but they certainly became a later part of the economy through soft drinks, condiments, foodstuffs and industry.  Rice comes over in both African and Asian varieties.

Because Africa was so prolific in its varieties of food crops and animals during this period–many foods became known as “Guinea,” or “Angolan.”  Guineos–was a knickname for bananas in parts of Central America, the heart of the banana republic region.  Guinea squash, guinea grass, guinea hogs, guinea pigs, guinea hens, Angolan chicken, Congo eels, you name it–different species were attributed–sometimes erroneously to Africa.  No collards are not African, but they fit the bill in a diet much more in love with the year-round consumption of leafy greens than that of early modern Northern Europe.

There were also American crops and species that became important in West Africa through the time of contact through the period of slavery.  Tomatoes, corn, peanuts, tropical fruits like papaya, pineapple, guava and avocado became incorporated in the West and Central African diet, on the terms of the adapters.  Africa enjoyed incredible edible botanical diversity, incorporating crops from every corner of the world.  Unfortunately slavery, political upheaval, and colonialism underminded the ability of most societies to sustainably feed themselves, and famine Africa was born.

Crops of African Origins in the Americas:

Okra                                                  Coffee

Yams                                                 Miracle Fruit

Sorghums, Grain and Sweet      Lablab/Hyacinth Bean

Millets                                               Balsam Apple

Tamarind                                          Oil Palm

Cowpeas/Black Eyed Peas           Akee Apple

Pigeon Peas                                     Guinea Grass

Burr GherkinsBurr Gherkins            Cotton

African Rice                                     Bottle Gourd

Watermelon                                    Muskmelon

Benne/African Sesame                African Eggplant/Guinea Squash

Hibiscus/Sorrel/Roselle              Jelly Melon

Amaranth spp.                              Bamana GroundnutBamana Groundnut



Crops of Asian or American origin diversified and naturalized in Africa introduced to different parts of the Americas with African cultivars:






Hot Chilies

Sweet Potatoes



Asian Rice


Animal varieties of African Origins in the Americas:

Guinea Fowl

Fulani cattle

African Hair Sheep 

Guinea Hogs


Cattle Egrets


Domestic Cat



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Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Food and Slavery, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments