The Cooking Gene

Announcing a New Project Take One: The Cooking Gene

It is the eve of the last Shabbat of 2011.

I can’t get a hold of anybody.  Everybody is getting ready for New Year’s Eve and getting out the last of the holiday season fervor from their bones.  I need to run out and get my collard greens and black eyed peas and the head of a fish.  Now, I am not really into fish–a great shock goes over the crowd….but I will eat a small bite of fish cheek on New Year’s Day so I can be the head and not the tail.

There will be collard greens, there will be black eyed peas–but I cannot guarantee that either will be made in the traditional fashion.  I may include up to seven greens to get new friends in the New Year.  Given the project that I am launching for early next summer, I’m going to need them, and I’m going to need You.

You will be reading a lot about this as time goes on–but I figured what the hell—readership is pretty good today and it seems like a great time to talk about the project as it shapes up.

Me at 3 with the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary on a Fisher-Price Table--You can't see it but my toy stove and cooking set is in the background...

Genealogy–family history–has always been an important part of my journey.  In the fourth grade, Mrs. Yunusah had us do a family tree project.  My uncle, Stephen Townsend, who was then maybe five or seven years younger than I am now immediately pulled out all of his research which he had been doing since he was about thirteen (you guessed it–this runs in the family).  My Uncle Tony (all the African American Genealogical and Historical Society (AAGHS) folks know him as “Stephen,”) was captivated by Alex Haley’s Roots and made it his mission to go back as far as he could to find our roots and to preserve family history.  Unlike other family genealogists he made it his mission to trace all of our main family lines and to this day the Todd-Hughes-Hanock-Mabry-Bellamy families have their own joint organization honoring our ancestors, many of whom go back to the Domestic Slave Trade that posited thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans from the old, colonial South in the cotton lands of the Black Belt–in our case, Alabama.

What my uncle told me that night was electrifying.  I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying because he was talking so fast and everything seemed complicated–and it was–but I knew I should feel pretty lucky that we could go back that far and that I knew–to a limited extent–where I “came from.”

In 2012, after over 100 presentations, multiple publications on African American food history and a decent–could be better–blogging year…I’m taking things up a notch…I am going to be writing on two blogs–consistenly–Afroculinaria and The Cooking Gene.  The Cooking Gene is pretty much 2012 will be about for me and my work, alongside a few proposals and projects I am trying to sell to publishers.

The Cooking Gene will be a blog on WordPress alongside Afroculinaria.  Afroculinaria is NOT going away!  We will also be twittering, we may have a separate Facebook for the project and for the duration of the fundraising campaign we will be in Indiegogo.  The resultant documenation collected from the project from January through the end and beyond may feed into a book proposal/project and a documentary.

This won’t be last post about this…I think I’ve said that several times already…LOL…The Cooking Gene will follow the story of African American foodways through my family history.  I will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo to take this trip through the South and blog about it–and document through photographs and video the plantations, graves, historic sites and places of cultural memory that speak to my family’s “food-steps,” in the Old South through to my grandparents migration North from Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia.  I will have DNA samples collected from male relatives and myself to give context to our African, European and Native American origins and to piece together the story through records, travel and scientific evidence to get a hold of my family’s origins.  I am also looking for my family’s owners—some of whom I am related to by blood–and others whom I am not.  I am going to cook the entire route of my journey, and hopefully I will get to cook with my family through history–Black, White and Native American.

The campaign is being launched on January 16, 2012.  It’s success will depend on people sharing the information and getting the word out.  We will be campaigning through May and the trip should begin around May 22.  For about fifty days I will be on the road from Maryland down to Louisiana and back visiting all the major regions of slavery in the Old South collecting family history, food histories and cooking and doing community service projects.  There will be some forays to New England, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and other places later in the summer, but I am raising money for this project first!  It’s my life’s dream to know where we came from in West and West Central Africa; but also to tell the story of African American foodways in a way that is intimate, unique, personal, and accurate.

I want to preserve the family graves and tell stories and get other people to tell stories.  I want to use my journey to inspire others to go on their own and share the wisdom they learn with others with the world.  I want to bring racial reconcilliation and healing to the South and to this country in what will be a volatile year politically.  We will visit Civil Rights sites I’ve never been to as well. Most of all, I want to see my “old Country,” the Old South—and trace a story that many others have avoided–the story of the cooks of the plantation South who were the backbone of the creation of Southern cuisine and its legacy in American gastronomy.

I want to write the culinary answer to Roots.

Twenty ways you can help:

1.  Get the word out about this project.  I am not just looking for funding–although funding is really really crucial and I do hope that once the project goes up you will donate–don’t worry there is a recession suggestion 🙂 and everybody who donates on crowdfunding sites gets a little something for their trouble…  Getting the word out about this project could help us get the support we need to finish tracing the family tree, get a hold of the families involved in this story, attract the attention of academics and scholars who could lend their advice and support, attract local and state and African American media outlets that could advertise our project and overall make sure that people keep passing it on until the widest circle possible knows about The Cooking Gene.  So: Tweet about it, Facebook it, share it, bookmark us, email your personal and family networks about this project–the best part–none of those things will cost you anything but a little bit of time and pressing the enter button.

2.  Write in with suggestions.  The journey is going to go through a number of states–Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida….most of the Confederacy and beyond.  I may visit Delaware, Texas, etc. But I’m not sure yet.  The most important thing I can say is we are looking for community service projects where this information would come in handy (community garden projects, food justice projects, rebuilding efforts. etc.).  Please don’t think any of this comes free, please remind people that making a donation large or small makes this project possible.  I am selecting seven community service projects total and I’m giving my all to those seven.  First I need to know who needs what and where I need to go.

Food places–if you know places where Black farmers and fishermen are to be found or where the legacy of Southern plantation cooking is going on in restaurants or other places, please let me know.  This journey is about where food meets history and there are plenty of places in the South today where food is tied to the local history!

Historic Sites and Plantations–I want to spotlight those places that help tell the story about the African American contribution to American food history and the cultural debt of this nation to our influence.  I also need to work LOL!  Please suggest places where I should offer a presentation about slavery and African American food history.  I will offer a VERY discounted rate for museums that give me the ability to do presentations while on this journey. I need to pay my bills even while I’m on the road!  If there are places you want me to go, let me know!

Houses of Worship–Churches and synagogues will be very special places. If your church has dinner on the grounds or your Southern shul has special Shabbat dinners, etc. that’s cool–have us over! (Again get the word out!) I want to document how people are cooking today and include some of the recipes I find on the way.

Important People–if you know scholars, genealogists, living history buffs, cooks, restaraunteurs, chefs, journalists, etc. who need to know about the project or would love to hear more about it–tell them to meet me here!

3.  Please let me know if you know the following families–and get the word out to them:

The Twitty family of Lancaster County, South Carolina.  I am looking for the white family that owned the black Twittys…) Origin …Scots-Irish….  It is possible both the Twittys and Mungos got their enslaved workforce from Charleston, South Carolina–colonial and Federal America’s largest slave port.

The Mungo family–I am assured we are related to the white Mungos through census records and our family history–the Mungos were in Lancaster and Kershaw County, South Carolina….origin Scottish…

The Bellamy family of North Carolina and Alabama. (“Master” William Bellamy; “Master” Richard Henry Bellamy) William Bellamy was my great-great-great-great grandfather and was born in northeastern North Carolina as was his son–Richard Henry–Richard Henry impregnated my great great great grandmother Sallie Chadwick and she gave birth to my grandmother’s grandmother Hattie Mabry Bellamy in Alabama in the early 1860’s.

The Chadwick family of Wilmington NC/Charleston SC?

The Meritt family of Wilmington NC/Charleston SC?

The Pates of Lancaster County, South Carolina. “Master” Levi Pate.

The Lathrops of Barnstable, Massachusetts. (goes to the Bellamy line through my great-great-great-grandfather–Richard Henry Bellamy…)

The Barnetts of central Virginia–Buckingham, Amelia, Prince Edward Counties, Virginia, Lynchburg?

The Todd‘s of Tidewater Virginia (Richmond)

The Hughes‘s of North Carolina and central Alabama

The Hancocks of central Alabama and Georgia.

The Clinch Family (Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina)

The Hains‘s of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Bookers of central Virginia/Prince Edward County, Virginia, Buckingham, Amelia, Lynchburg.

The Saunders Family of central Virginia.

The Bowen family of Virginia. Norfolk?  Elizabeth City County?  Hampton?  Eastern North Carolina?

The Townsends of northern Alabama and southern Tennessee.

My family(ies) were enslaved in the following states: Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

4.  Tell everybody you know to tell everybody they know to tell everybody they know.  This is a unique opportunity to be a part of a history lesson I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from and never forget.

Grandaddy Telling Me a Story about his Parents, South Carolina 2004. He was born in 1916.

Thanks for everybody reading and supporting this blog in 2011.  I hope I have your support and readership in 2012 and hope that you can help me tell my family’s story. It means the world to me. G-d bless and good luck!



1 comment on “Announcing a New Project Take One: The Cooking Gene

  1. Debra Diaz



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