So here at we love debate.  We love respectful discussion and I believe that’s what I got from a reader named Justin.  In response to my post of Oldway’s African Heritage Pyramid and ingredients suggestion list, Justin gave this pointed, but respectful, query about the post and its contents:


Okay so let’s really dig into what’s bugging Justin.  1. American and Asian crops incorporated into the pyramid and list are not African and therefore should be attributed as such.  2.  This website quote-un-quote, is all about “culinary justice,” for Africans and African Americans but (curiously–isn’t that the right word here?) seems to not be so down for culinary justice for other people of color—especially Native American and Asian populations.  3. Here it comes–yes Africans and the African Diaspora “deserve much more credit” but 4. If we are going to talk origins “we” should “at least” be accurate.

Justin could be any pheno or geno type of the human race so we aren’t going to assume anything about Justin based on that criteria.  We just want to simply look at his points and respond to his query.   His points are very fair so no shade, let’s address them—

  1.  Nobody reputable falsely attributes tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, corn etc. to African origins.  Rather, it is more factually stated that Africans incorporated ingredients from around the globe across 3 millenia into an ethnobotanical system that incorporated 2-3,000 edible plant species, domestic, wild and semi-wild. In other words, pre-colonial Africans incorporated American species largely on the basis of their similarity to food plants they already had some familiarity with due to similarity in appearance as human beings often innately seek commonalities in appearance and genus before taking a leap with new flora.  However, in the same way that very few Americans would ever second-guess that broccoli is a European and fairly recent addition to Chinese cuisine or have assumed Native American origins for Appalachian sorghum, many foods of Native American origins have become incorporated across the Atlantic in ways that are so endemic nobody in living memory can distinguish between the days before corn (Zea mays) and the days after.  The revolutionary response of the planet to the produce of the indigenous American garden is unmistakable and undeniable and I think neither this blog nor Oldways attempted to obscure, annihilate or deny that rather obvious fact.
  2. That ingredients from “off” have an African life of their own is no different from the way other ingredients or food traditions have played out in non-indigenous contexts .  That Israelis make “Hodu,” or turkey (Meleagris pavo) into shwarma and shnitzel in large quantities doesn’t really speak to Native American cultural politics or issues and doesn’t really affect the bottom line for the Cherokee, the Abenaki, the Quechua or Nahuatl.   Culinary justice is not merely about attribution.  Its about the whole complex of ideas about how an oppressed people’s foodways as a form of cultural capital is utilized to their advantage.  It isn’t about claiming territory or zealously guarding achievements, those are ideational impediments imposed by those from the outside looking in and casting a simplistic gaze on our attempt to re-claim power.
  3. This website is not a mule for everybody’s stuff.  Let’s make that clear.  It’s my responsibility to have a focus and my focus is African American, African, and African Diaspora foodways.  At the same time, from that center I relate the reader to the fact that this is not about what people have African descent have solely done on their own without outside interaction.  That’s not just culturally chauvinist but intellectually dishonest and shuts down any sort of multicultural or intersectional discourse.  I work hard to attribute things to their source and also to show how commonalities in food are narratives that give us a bridge to one another.  Because of my work I’ve have the privilege to meet chefs like Ed Lee, Roy Choi, Sean Sherman, Brian Yazzie, Vivian Howard, among others who while they don’t share my cultural background, we support and enhance each other’s journey to make social justice a primary ingredient in our approach to food.  Through public dialogue, cooking together and creating bonds off camera we are doing the real work to build community over the idea of recognition, empowerment and amplification for all.
  4. I fully expect people to assume that I’m an angry Afrocentric know it all who needs to be held to some standards of scholarly soundness no matter how well-intentioned or captivating my end-goal.  That kind of person is easy to dismiss, deconstruct and intellectually dismantle.  But basically, that’s really just a stereotype and one that I have had to wrestle with over and over again, not because I live up to it, but because assumptions are made without adequate research into my lens.   Its disappointing because on this very site are examples that I am not guilty of turning a blind eye to other cultures and their important role in shaping the food traditon I love and the ways people of African descent have shown intuitive culinary genius, drive and native ingenuity in how they have related to the foodways and ingredients of other peoples.
  5. My blog isn’t a hotbed of “reverse racism,” in fact its a place where I try to foment racial reconciliation and healing and open dialogue while centering my thought and voice from the perspective of my culture.  I am glad I was able to answer to your concerns and hope that you feel more confident about this blog as a source of entertainment as well as a resource for factual information.  We have no “alternative facts” here at Afroculinaria.
  6. Everybody buy my book now: its on pre-order: Amazon!


2 comments on “In Response to Justin’s Query: Not a Sermon, Just a Fact-Check

  1. I love your blog! It’s incredibly interesting reading! As someone from Latino/Caucasian/Native American descent (I’m a mutt), I want to read and devour everything I can to sow seeds of love. We need more folks like you in the world who are bringing to the center everything that is good about our shared humanity. Keep it up! I’m doing it from a meditative approach, but still. It’s all about helping each other to forge understanding and overcome.


  2. Marcy Drake

    I saw your videos made with Jas. Townsend & Son, and I had to look you up because I love food history (also just food & just history), and I found your presentation fascinating. However, I was left with the feeling that the information you provided was just barely scratching the surface of what you have to share. I would love to see you do more of these, or maybe launch your own YouTube channel. The contributions of African peoples to our culture, and particularly our American food culture is sadly not celebrated or acknowledged nearly enough. You are doing a great public service, and I hope I have the opportunity to learn more from you in the future.


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