African American Food History Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria

Reminder: Kwanzaa Principles and Food

Making the Peanut Mash for Mafe

Heri Zaa Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Kwanzaa derives from a Swahili expression for “first fruits” of the harvest and was created so African Americans could have a holiday all their own to celebrate each other and their collective culture and historical experience.  (If you don’t like this particular aspect please be sure to protest every other other ethnic or national group’s holiday or holy day or commemoration that posits them as distinct, unique, and self-determining….nuff said…)  Today Kwanzaa is a Pan-African holiday that calls on all of Africa’s children to come together for a greater purpose, and by doing so, to enhance and bless the entire human family.  This is a time when we get our own house in order so we can come back to the table of brotherhood/ sisterhood/ humanhood refreshed knowing we are becoming our best selves.

Here are the Nguzo Saba–the Seven Principles—redefined in food terms.  Happy Kwanzaa and please keep the spirit of this incredibly important and useful commemoration alive.   Please visit the official Kwanzaa website at

1. Umoja–Unity

I may eat grits, and you may eat sadza.  You may like your hot sauce made with Brazilian melegueta chilies and I may like mine from Fish peppers.  You like akee and salt fish, I like fried salt herring and rice.  You like gumbo, she likes pepperpot, we all like suya, moi-moi, akara and fufu.  We are one astonishing people with a global food tradition that is remarkable for its distinctiveness but even more remarkable for its unified sense of flavor, composure, aesthetics and types of ingredients.

We are collard greens in Harlem, Bahia, and Amsterdam.

We are Pepperpot, gumbo, calaloo, oxtail stew and vatapa.

We are catfish, red snapper, tilapia, perch, croaker, whiting, and corvina.

We are pork ribs, Halal chicken, Kosher beef ribs, and a goat meant for Ogun.

We are samba beats, house beats, reggae beats, spirituals, gospel, jazz, hip hop, r and b, the blues, zydeco, Morna, palm wine, Afropop, disco, and country sting band.  We are the world music playing as you stir your pots.

We are a pot on three stones, we are Grandma’s cast iron stove, Great-great-great grandma’s plantation hearth, we are your microwave and electric slow cooker.

We are Sylvia’s, Ms. Sallie’s, Ms. Edna’s, Charle’s Southern Style, Ms. Mamie’s, Amy Ruth’s-we are Nando’s peri peri and Dooky Chase.

We are fufu, rice, millet, sorghum, mealies, we are all of it..and the sauce that goes on top.

We are don’t put the spoon back in the pot after you have tasted the food, we are don’t eat without saying grace, we are the elders and the children eat first, we are put the food on the plate or the floor for those who came before….. We are one people with many faces.

2.  Kujichagulia–Self-Determination

We have a responsiblity to our communities and our cousins to define our foodways in our own terms, in our own words, and to set a tone for the state of the art.  We should stand up and have our voices heard when our role in America’s culinary history and global culinary history is remanded to a second-class status or when incorrect information is communicated about our contributions and food history.  We owe this to our ancestors, to our children, and to those who are yet unborn.  Speak up, stand up, own and claim your heritage.

3.  Ujima–Collective Responsiblity

We owe it to each other to help one another out.  This means actively taking on the responsiblity of creating community gardens, food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and pariticpating in programs to end local and global hunger issues in communities of African descent.  We cannot rely on any one individual to make sure our children eat healthy and grow strong, to make sure we are properly fueled and hydrated, to make sure our elders eat nutritiously and in tune with their life’s calendar.  This is a collective effort and we have to agree  on the values we pursue collectively.  If you need healthy produce–grow it.  If you want to make sure everybody has a meal–share what you have and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.  If you are worried somebody in the Fifth Ward of Houston doesn’t have enough to eat or Darfur or Haiti–make sure you are putting your money and your time where your mouth is.  And don’t forget–it is our tradition to be xenophilic and hospitable–feeding mouths in our communities of all colors is a core value.  We must also pass on our food knowledge and family stories about that knowledge, as well as traditions and methods and find ways to organize our community to pass down those stories as well as to encourage healthy eating habits and overall self-care.

4.  Ujamaa–Cooperative Economics

Support our restaurants, our chefs, our cooks, our caterers, OUR BLOGGERS, our food writers, our FOOD HISTORIANS, our food trucks, our historic interpreters who cook, our cookbook authors and our nutritioual and holistic health professionals!!! Please support our food growers, folks who bring produce and meat and fish and artisanal products to marktet, support international African Diaspora cuisines and food products and support fair trade food products that benefit African and African Diaspora communities rather than exploit them!  Nothing burns my ass more than to see African Americans come to a “Black” event with designer this and that and then hardly support the Black vendors who are there desperate for their community’s support.  In 2012 lets help end our community’s recession–every day should be Ujamaa day.  (Not pajama day–Ujamaa day 🙂

5.  Nia–Purpose

We should act with purpose, intent, and a sense of something greater than ourselves, honoring that which is utilitarian–or has the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while not losing sight of individual needs.  Such acts can be as simple as our daily food choices for ourselves and our families and friends.  They can be where we spend our money, or if we make the choice to be charitable or philanthropic rather than selfish or self-centered.  Nia means we think with the end in mind and plant, sow, tend, and reap knowing to what ends our purposes serve.  It means planning, having a vision, building up our selves, our homes, our communities and our nation within a nation one plan, one decision and one thought at a time.

6.  Kuumba–Creativity

Kuumba means we find new ways to make our food traditions tastier and healthier, utilizing all the elements of our family tree–from Africa, America, the West Indies, Latin America, Brazil, Europe, Asia–and everywhere else our souls passed and our feet plied.  Creativity comes in handy when telling the story of our food past and making a food future that could include vertical gardens, rooftop apiaries, urban aquaculture, food systems for inner city African American communities and food exchange programs between communities in the Diaspora.  Creativity means making anew with the old and turning the old inside out.  It means making the new from nothing, and making that into tradition. Creativity is our culinary artistry, our food choices, our ways of communicating information abour our foods and our commitment to making our narrative relative to the future generations.

7. Imani–Faith

We have to be confident that we are in the right in our assumptions and beliefs that we are an equally important, valuable and gifted part of humanity.  We have to believe in this and own it with everything we have if we are to pass on an enobling culture that puts a high price and demand not just on pride but on on self-worth, self-esteem, self-control, and self-determination.

On the spiritual side we have to remember the spirituality–Divine and human that is a necessary ingredient in our cooking and food traditions–from the planting of  a seed to a culling of a chicken to the removal of a fish from water to the songs we sang as we cooked to the grace over the meal–we belief that Spirit is the heart of what we eat.

You can’t have soul food without being Soul People…If you want that taste, you gotta have that blessing.

To all people, of all cultures and background, Happy Holidays, lets all keep the light going!


3 comments on “Reminder: Kwanzaa Principles and Food

  1. Pingback: A New Way With New Years Day/African Black Eyed Pea Salsa | Afroculinaria

  2. Reblogged this on Maroon Reflections: SamoryBa's Record and commented:
    Asante sana, Medaase paa, Bro. Michael! Let me know when you’ll be in Atlanta. I’d like to do a Pan-African cooking show for my classes at Morehouse.


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