Food is like music, spirituality, dance and material patterns in our culture. It is on a straight line with other aspects of our culture–singular and difficult to extract from our aesthetic. In this little treat for ya’ll for Valentine’s Day–we’re looking at the way food and consumption is used as a metaphor for love and sex in African American culture. Happy Valentine’s Day! Warning the following post is racy!
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When I was a teenager the provocative song “Do Whatcha Like” came out by Digital Underground. (This is where it gets TV MA real-quick…) They used phrases like “grab em in the biscuits,” and “big like a pickle..” The two generations before me still used phrases like “sugar bowl,” and the jazz term “jelly roll,” and all sorts of euphemisms that surprisingly eluded us for years on end. My grandmother used to tell us boys to eat our carrots and greens because they put, “lead in your pencil.” Now being a nerd, I naturally assumed that beta carotene was great your eyes, but it made no sense to me to compare eyes with pencils. Then one night I overheard the grownups talking in code and all of a sudden I thought, “well what good does that do me? I ain’t wrote nothing yet….”
If you’re thinking it all goes back to Africa–you’re right. The European missionaries in Kongo in the 17th and 18th centuries complained about the way young men would “rap” in the marketplace, singing songs about how they went to the market to “eat” three “peanuts.” Well this was a veiled reference to hooking up with young women and these “secular,” songs were a part of flirting and courtship. All over West and Central Africa, the word “eat” is a euphemism for sexual activity or consumption, and terms like pot, kitchen, spoon, are used in sexual and romantic contexts. Food is a medium of love in traditional West and Central African culture and plays a role in many traditional wedding rituals were sweet rice or millet cakes, pumpkin, sweet potato, honey, cowpeas, cinnamon and other portents of a good love life are eaten by a couple at their ceremony. The children that may come out of the marriage are said to be “cooked in the hearth” (read bun in the oven).
According to my friend Fran Osseo-Asare:
“Cooking, family relationships, and sex are often linked by culinary images, words relating to sexual intercourse, marriage, family or fertility. In Twi, the word for “to eat,” di, also means to have sexual intercourse….as a delicious meal is called , “sweet,” so is a good sexual experience.”
“In Cameroon, sex is hot just like really good music, a great joke, or a mouth-watering meal. ” —Food and Cooking in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2005.
“Candy-Cause you affect me, fascinate me
I thank heaven for the things that you do (for the things that you do)
It’s like candy
You sure are sweet – Sweet!
You’re so dandy
You’re taking my appetite – but it’s all right
It’s like candy
(ooh, vanilla! oh, chocolate!)”–Cameo, “Candy,”
“Do you want it on your collard greens?
Do you want it in your candy sweets?
Do you want it on your pickled beets?
Give it to me, give it to me, give it
Do you want it on your rice and gravy?
Do you want it on your biscuits baby?
Do you want it on your black-eyed peas?
Feed it to me, feed it to me, feed it.” –Jill Scott, “It’s Love.”
My favorite example goes like this:
When you come to my house, come down behind the jail,
I got a sign on my door, “Barbecue for Sale”,
I’m talkin’ ’bout my barbecue, only thing I crave,
And that good doin’ meat, gon’ carry me to my grave.
I’m sellin’ it cheap, ’cause I got good stuff,
And if you try one time, you can’t get enough,
I’m talkin’ ’bout barbecue, only thing I sell,
And if you want my meat, you can come to my house at twelve.
Now some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some take it any, way it is sold,
I’m talkin’ ’bout barbecue, only thing I crave,
And that good doin’ meat, goin’ to take me to my grave.
Some people wants it, some people don’t,
If you buy my barbecue, it just won’t don’t-don’t-don’t,
Talkin’ ’bout barbecue, only thing I sell,
And if you want my meat, you’ve got to come by my house at twelve.
—Lucille Bogan, “Barbeque Bess,” (I like Patti Labelle’s rendtion best…)
Something sweet to share:
Caramel/Sea Salt Glazed Sour-Cream/Cream Cheese Pound Cake
(I’m more a of a cook than a baker but this is pretty damn good…)
- 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
- 1 1/2 cups butter, I prefer unsalted…
- 1 cup of sour cream
- 1 cup of organic evaporated cane juice (slightly blond colored organic sugar)
- 6 eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I am not brave enough to use cake flour…)
- 1 tablespoon of homemade Tahitian or Madagascar vanilla essence.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees; grease and lightly flour a 10 inch tube pan.
- In a large bowl, cream butter, sour cream and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffed.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Add the flour all at once and mix . Finish off with the vanilla essence.
- Pour into a 10 inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Check for doneness at 1 hour. A wooden skewer inserted into center of will come out clean with a few adhering crumbs.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar OR 1/4 cup of Muscavado sugar and 1/4 cup of white or organic blond sugar
- pinch of sea salt (there will be more salt…so watch it…)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon of Tahitian or Madagascar vanilla essence
“Ain’t nobody around can grind they coffee like mine!” —Lucille Bogan
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Oh, my! *fans self and clutches pearls* Old blues songs are aaaaaallllll about sex. The nouns are euphemisms for genitalia, and the verbs are about what one do with said body parts. Being in that mindset, it took a bit of a shift to realize that “slightly blond colored organic sugar” was merely an ingredient.