I want you to know I am not a one trick pony. Just because I want to be the first plantation Master Chef since Reconstruction doesn’t mean I don’t care about cala and mealies, feijoada, kankies, supakanja, fufu, picklees, bammy, and moros y christianos. We have to talk about that stuff, we have to make it and document here, or else we wouldn’t be Afroculinaria. It’s crucial to bring our family together again through food—our family meaning Africa and her Diaspora and all those who admire and appreciate the contribution to world cuisine. However, our family needs to understand why this knowledge system is important and how its practical for us today.
For too long African American food history has been held captive by the fact that its story is told in sweep rather than substance. You know the drill—“Africa (as generic as possible)—okra—black-eyed peas—rice—watermelon—that slavery thing—Emancipation-Migration—Urbanization—Civil Rights—Soul Food—okay we’re done.” People are starting to believe there’s nothing more to say, nothing more to see, and nothing could be further from the truth. We need something useful that we can pass down to an eager and hungry group of younger people who will understand the import of what they in turn will bequeath. Food is not trivial—it at the heart of how we became African Americans and the real power and secrets behind our survival.
I am an egalitarian learner. I believe in being autodidactic. If it wasn’t for self-taught people, our ancestors would never have made it out of slavery and I wouldn’t be typing this. I want to empower you to be a participant in this knowledge system rather than a passive trivial viewer of it as so many have become.
This information is not trivial; it provides us with cues and clues to our own survival. If you are of African descent, being inspired by your past and prepared for the future is not a nicety. Our history is incredibly tortured—we have to overcome it every day. It is essential to your survival. It’s hard for a kid who knows where he comes from to pick up a gun and assault another when half the problem is self-hatred. It’s hard for someone who knows this information to not start to pay attention to diet and to connect the dots to better health. It becomes harder for us to ignore the mis-education of our neighbors which in turn promotes structural and institutional racism that feeds financial inequality, poor holistic health for people of color and greater distrust and disharmony in society based on the false perception of “race.” This food knowledge to us—is life knowledge.
Twenty reasons this knowledge system is important and why you should care:
- We need to know our foods. Our transitional-traditional foods of the past 500 years include those from Africa, Native America, Asia and Europe. We need to understand what they mean to us, where they come from and their value and role in sustaining the longest, healthiest possible life we can draw from them.
- We need to encourage and reward self-reliance—growing our own food, creating a food system for communities of color, and creating community gardens and urban farms from which to source produce, fruit, honey, eggs, meat, fish and dairy.
- We need to renew the spiritual link with our food—honoring its Creator, its producers, its preparers, its servers and finally its consumers.
- We need to respect and protect the environments our food comes from.
- We need look to the past to solve our problems of taste—there might be a food that can take us off of aspartame or other artificial sweeteners or something that can solve other taste issues in our modern diet.
- We need to honor the memory of the food producers, preparers, and servers of the past—these people were not Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima—they were real men and women with real wit, creativity, skill and genius.
- Honoring our food past means creating a serious and sustained food heritage—a very powerful tool in communicating history and identity to the next generation.
- Knowing your food history and your genealogy is a good way to understand your health and the factors that are working for you and against you and can save your life.
- Growing our heirlooms and raising our heritage breeds provides our community with access to the same types of industries that allow other ethnic groups to exert their expertise and influence on products unique to their heritage and gives us greater ownership of things that can help bring long term economic stability to our community and provide sustainable connections to the organic seed and food movement and the promotion of food justice.
- Knowing our food traditions around the world connects us and brings us together as people of African descent. Where the boat picked us up is far more important than where it dropped us off.
- Knowing our food history and food destiny means we can connect with our neighbors over foods we have lent and those we have borrowed, over what we have contributed and what we have taken. This can promote dialogue, conversation and learning across cultural barriers.
- Learning about the food traditions of other communities or about the diverse traditions within our own families means we can draw on the strengths and build on the successes of other food systems that are healthy, tasty and flexibly fused.
- We need to learn our food history so we can maintain the knowledge systems that produce artisan foods and other edible or drinkable goods. This adds to our community and individual power and gives us a unique cultural skill set.
- We need to know this so we can enter into the mindset of our forefathers and foremothers so we can understand how we got here—and not make uncritical assumptions about them without truly understanding the full story.
- Regardless of what some people may think of our holidays, holy days and days of historic commemoration we owe it to ourselves to have reasons to celebrate and maintain a link between our culture and the days of the year. All holidays are in some way contrived—so please don’t allow racist nonsense to dissuade you from celebrating Kwanzaa or Juneteenth or Malcolm X’s birthday or Yoruba New Year or Dr. King’s Birthday or whatever commemoration we have on our plates. These are our reasons for cooking and sharing these recipes within a cultural context.
- Our food and its story is an excuse to talk about the culinary memories within our own families and traditions and a way to remember and respect our ancestors.
- Knowing this story and passing it on is a part of the conversation of being in a culture. Every culture must conduct conversations about what it means to be a part of that specific ethos. The conversation may repeat certain things, it may bring our new insights, but its power.
- We need to know what to document, collect, preserve in terms of media, artifacts, so that we can archive our food history and pass it on and know the value of what we are protecting.
- We need to encourage a love and respect for our food tradition in all of its forms because it tells our story.
- We need hold documentaries, museums and history books accountable for inaccurate information, evasion of the full knowledge of the African/African American contribution, racial stereotypes, and nullification or sublimation of our role in global, New World, American or Southern culinary history. We need to share and promote our unique view point and encourage demanding and accurate scholarship of all scholars of African American and African culinary history. You have know this stuff to be able to do all twenty reasons!