Watch “Food of the Enslaved: Okra Soup” on YouTube

I loved partnering with Jason Townsend&Sons, my favorite historic clothier and provider of historic goods to produce a few videos for their wildly popular You Tube series on cooking in the 18th century, depicting the influence of enslaved Africans and African Americans in early American cuisine. We prepared these dishes out at George Mason’s Gunston Hall Plantation in Mason Neck, Virginia. We prepared a simple okra soup based on early receipts including that of “Queen Molly,” herself, also known as Mary Randolph, author of the first Southern cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, and other recipes of the late 18th and early 19th century. For those who may not get an opportunity to see me do historic cooking live will certainly enjoy this. I will put up later videos which I will post to Afroculinaria, we will be demonstrating an early barbecue sauce and black eyed pea cakes!

Many thanks to Jas.Townsend&co for their generosity and kindness and for the wonderful videos they put together as well as my friends over at Gunston Hall. Many many thanks to all. If you like this post or the videos, feel free to share!

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Diaspora Food Culture, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Recipes, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The African Heritage Food Pyramid

I want to start Black History Month off right, sharing with you the Oldways African Heritage Food Pyramid. Oldways has worked the past few years to create content that gears communities of color toward better eating habits and health patterns based in and on the traditional diets of Latin America, South and East Asia, Africa and her Diaspora and the Middle East and Mediterranean.

For my purposes I discourage gluten intake, dairy intake and white potatoes. Doesn’t mean I don’t eat them, I just work to curtail them in my daily diet. These foods simply weren’t common or traditional to the West and Central diet in the days of contact. When I limit these foods my body feels better. Utilize the food pyramid as a guide to begin to navigate how you want to eat to live.

Note: the leafy greens, black eyed peas, rice, fresh fruit, spices, high water intake and the cute sweet potato pie up top!


If you want to learn more about Oldways:

Let’s Connect!
Web: oldwayspt.org
Facebook: facebook.com/oldwayspt
Twitter: twitter.com/oldwayspt
Instagram: instagram.com/oldways_pt
Pinterest: pinterest.com/oldways

Posted in Diaspora Food Culture, Elders and Wise Folk, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Revolutionary in Residence, Come See Me February 11th in Colonial Williamsburg

Beginning my Colonial Afro-Virginian Barbecue Experiment, Colonial Williamsburg

Beginning my Colonial Afro-Virginian Barbecue Experiment, Colonial Williamsburg

I believe in America.  Even now when so many things feel out of place and regressive.  I am dedicated to reminding us about our story and the ways in which we have co-created a unique world without parallel in the history of humankind.  This loud proclamation of “exceptionalism” is not just a song of praise, but of criticism and critique.  I realize that this country is the only place in which I am possible, and by possible, I mean a set of circumstances so extraordinary and infuriating that its a miracle I’m here.

America is a place where living history still finds takers in the museum industry. We are young but we are aging, pushing each day further and farther away from the birth pangs of this sprawling corner of what was once merely an outpost in the Atlantic world.  We crave self-knowledge of the American journey.  We look into the mirror-pools of the past in hopes of divining our future, and some of us do this to protect ourselves from future mishaps.  Whittled down to butter churning, sweating in a field, making shoes or reenacting speeches, living history is all and none of this.  Living history is a door into ourselves as well and a clue into the everyday lived humanity of our ancestors.

For African Americans living history has been fraught with difficulty. It is full of painful reminders as well as glimmers of triumph.  Only a few of us have dared to walk through the doors and remain dedicated to interpreting the past.  We do so not out of any sort of spiritual masochism, but in the spirit of cultural preservation, commitment to social awareness and respect of our past paths as a people.  This place, carved for us by those who saw a need is a meaningful and highly spiritual space where we confront and create, weep and rejoice, create and re-fashion.

It is a great privilege to be Colonial Williamsburg’s first Revolutionary in Residence.  It will mean a year of cooking, honing my craft, creating gatherings where we can celebrate the African-Virginian heritage and legacy in Williamsburg and beyond and create tastes for the visitors of the past as shaped by African and African-Virginian brains and hands.  I do not see this as merely an opportunity to enrich my career but to serve my country at its (and the world’s) largest living history museum, an opportunity to both educate and learn and give more honor and greater awareness to the astounding creativity, courage and civilized precision brought to this land by my Ancestors.

When I interpret the Africans and African Americans of the 18th century, I am in rapture.  To me they are unfortunately remote from us and our cultural memory and I want to restore them to our consciousness.  My journey research The Cooking Gene has brought me closer to them, and just getting a taste, I want to know more. Being at Colonial Williamsburg every month, I feel that sense of connection with them and the opportunity to ennoble them further and enlighten others about their world.   I hope the food you taste when you come visit Chowning’s Tavern or Traditions will give you a sense of the deep African and African Virginian roots of Southern food.  I hope you get to see our Sankofa Food Lab–a place where the historic foods of Africa and the early South will be studied intensely and brought back into contemporary use and understanding.

Join me on February 11th at the Kimball Theater to find out just what a Revolutionary in Residence is, and what we can learn from the intersecting crossroads of culture, food, history and the future.  You gotta get a ticket, so please plan ahead!

 

 

Posted in African American Food History, Events and Appearances, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Come for Me Unless I Send For You…

​You wish I was just a “folk historian….”

I am not a “folk historian”..There are scholars of folklore and they do beautiful work, but when you say “folk historian,” with no hyperlinks to my work or further background your dismissive, “Can you really trust this guy?/he’s full of blather” perspective comes through. One of my friends on social media commented: “As a folklorist I will say that, from the POV of journalists, a “folk historian” is someone who does a kind of hearsay history that they don’t recognize as legitimate.”

I am a free man of color who is about to school you on how not to call a free man of color out of his name. I am a culinary historian. You are not.  I am the descendant of enslaved Africans, you are not. I am a historic chef. You are not. I had to fight for everything I’ve become and every name I have earned. None of it was handed to me and none can be taken away. I played by your culture’s rules of bootstraps and meritocracy and I deserve more than simple reductions by entitled food media who think they can dismiss me and my truth without providing links or a nuanced and informed introduction. You never carry the same baggage and therefore you will always lack a certain degree of caché because you called me a “Northern food writer” and shot tropes at me on social media about being aggressive, being an outsider and told your readership that I didn’t deserve to be “a lead voice.” Imagine if I told you, a white woman and fellow Jew, what you “deserved.” Or if I qualified and passed judgment on the value of your “voice.” You can disagree with someone and still respect them and clearly you do not.
While you’re at it…just keep my name out of your paper until you can address me and my point of view with respect and acknowledge that these hands that were never meant to do more than pick cotton, tobacco or rice are the same hands that make me your COLLEAGUE.

Why don’t you tell your readers how I WON TWO SAVEUR BLOG AWARDS FOR MY LETTER TO SEAN. I am a TED Fellow. I am one of the first Smith Fellows with the Southern Foodways Alliance. I am the first Taste Talks Culinary Pioneer Award winner. I am one of First We Feast’s greatest food bloggers of all time. I have spoken from Oxford, England to Oxford, Mississippi and just so you know I can trace my ancestry back to the Mende, Temne, Fula, Kongo, and Akan that arrived here on slave ships to Charleston. 

Tell them how I out reached to Sean and other white chefs in the South (btw, I didn’t have to, I chose to.)

Tell them how complex this is instead of attempting to reduce me to a fraud with some flippant line.

If all you can do is write about Kevin, BJ and Mashama over and over again (and they should have MUCH MORE FOR THEIR HARD WORK) and whitesplain criticism….where am I wrong?

So bye&when HarperCollins publishes my book I suggest you and company read it.

And weep. That’s all. Burn after reading. I’m not mean. I don’t have an attitude. Nobody’s perfect or has all the answers. I love being a sweet person and encouraging love but if people don’t still want to treat you right, you just have to say “folk off.”

Posted in African American Food History, Cultural Politics, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Why I Don’t Do “Race.”

Race.

The minute I say that I’m African American people cast that word “race,” on me faster than the net that they used to catch Kunta Kinte in Roots.

Race is a dangerous concept and it’s source, the evolution of the Western response to human differences and diversity, from treating non-Europeans as titillating alien curiosities to enslaved chattel, colonial subjects and global pawns in a game of winner take all; is the end result of 2000 years of wrangling over what human means, what the divine means, what our destiny means when it doesn’t look like us.

African American is not a race. African American is a cultural designation.  It’s as socio-political as Black, Negro, Colored, before it.  Its an old term, first appearing in print in America in the late 18th century.  Jesse Jackson didn’t invent it and please don’t bore me with “you’re not African,” because it’s up to each person of African descent coming from the line of those who came here enslaved or in earlier migrational waves to define themselves according to their own will.  Just because I define myself as a part of the larger African, African Diaspora and African Atlantic and African American families doesn’t mean anybody else should.  We can and should tolerate different and distinct understandings of self and nation.

Let’s get back to this “race,” thing.  Race is an illusion, a concept with a complex history.  Nothing drives me crazier than to hear the phrases, “I don’t care what race you are.”  “I have friends of different races.”  or “I don’t see race.”

You can’t see some shit that’s not there.

Race is not real. Race is lazy shorthand for a complex mixture of ethnotype, genotype and phenotype every human finds themself imprisoned in.

Ethnotype–the culture most human beings find themselves born into, which itself is usually a fluid and complex blend of a people’s sense of uniqueness bound up with geographical limitations, genetic groupings and a certain body of looks and appearances that are both made by nature and nurture.

You can be a certain genotype (what we cannot see) and phenotype (what we can see) but not identify with an ethnotype (ethnicity, culture, nationality) people might pigeon hole us as or file our appearance.

Genotype–your genes–your particular DNA mixture, your scientific recipe, they can be from all over and they are mostly indistinguishable from other human beings.  However the part that is distinguishable, that tiny little sliver, is the hand you’re dealt that makes people see your phenotype and may make them assume your ethnotype.

Your genotype can obscure and often does, the fact that most human beings in the global flow of civilizations have admixtures that reflect migration, war, sexual violation, romantic unions, trade and re-settlement.  Our genes until recently were obscured parts of how we viewed ourselves.  We assumed mixtures based on tradition and appearances, but we had no clue that a single individual could reflect so many different heritages–genetic and ethnic.  Imagine for example if Bruno Mars–who is European Jewish, Puerto Rican and Filipino took a DNA test.  His DNA would reflect Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Native America, and Asia and the Pacific Rim.  But what does his genotype and phenotype tell you if you didn’t know it was Bruno?

Phenotype–how you look.  Your hair, eyes, butt, skin type, color, and other physical features. Some are endemic to certain ethnotypes with specific genotypes.  Again there is an interplay between how nature makes us look, how nurture makes us identify and how genes affect our destiny in uneven ways–sometimes predictable and other times as a crapshoot.

Your phenotype can lie.  Your phenotype can give you away.  Your phenotype can tell stories and hide others.  Phenotype is not an accurate way to determine a person’s cultural orientation or ethnic or national identity and it is an inaccurate way of gauging a person’s feelings about their complete self.  The way we react to people’s phenotype often conflates with assumptions we make about their character, behavior, identity and understanding of the world–this is where bias, stereotyping, racism and prejudice come into play.

Race may be an illusion but racism is real.  Racism is about power.  Racism begins with the assumption that ethnotype, genotype and phenotype form immutable sub-species of the one human race.  As far as we know, the human race is not breakable into different races.  Yes, different genotypes carry with them distinct ways in which phenotypes manifest.  My hair and inherited health profile is significantly different from a white Southern male with whom I share a great deal of culture, history and identity.  We don’t have the same barber, skin products or guidelines for how to manage our health.  That sliver of difference and the difference in our larger histories as members of ethnotypes and individual shape the destiny we are given.  It’s not racist to acknowledge those differences which are for the mot part, inevitable.  It is racist to work within a power dynamic and use that to oppress or suppress one of us. Race the social construct is a weapon that has murdered millions, racism is a leading undiagnosed cause of death. 

There are bigots in all colors and types.  Bigotry is largely about our insecurities as part of the human family, old hurts, new pains and cultural and scientific misunderstandings.  Bigots may or may not have the power to inflict pain or pass on the cycle of genetic, cultural or physical insecurity known as racism.  There have been, in the past 500 years, racists in many colors, but power is largely the arbiter of who’s bigotry flowers into the big ugly Raffelsia arnoldii of racism.  It is an unfortunate truth that the Western world has promulgated the greatest amount of racism, and this cancer has ebbed and flowed from victor to victim for about a millennium or so.

When I was a little kid, I had issues with physical self-hatred.  I didn’t understand why I wasn’t handsome or pretty like white people.  I didn’t understand that this was a completely arbitrary and unnatural response to my own reflection.  People tried to sow doubts in my head about my intelligence, my motives, my abilities.  However my mother, father, grandparents and other people raged against the cult of anti-Black racism that undergirded (undergirds?) our national culture and Western civilization in some permutations.  Self-love began to emerge.  I began to appreciate according to my own understanding the complex meeting of my ethnic heritage, my genes and my physical features.

At the same time, I began to appreciate other people’s unique braids in the same way you might assess jewelry or sculpture. Terence, the African, the ancient Roman poet of African birth famously said, “I am human, nothing human is alien to me.”  I appreciate my people (s) and braids and hold them central in my focus and affection.  However I think its a waste of the human experience to not look at all the rest of humanity and see the opportunity to learn from these gem like expressions of the Adam-creature, this woman, this man, this gender fluid thing called a human, made of earth and star matter, infused with a spirit that is in all cases human and according to many divine.

We are family, a human family and we must make peace with our divisions as much as we make gestures towards our commonality.  We are family, a human family, and we are charged with resolving our historic wrongs as well as making a future that is free of the pock marks of our past.  Killing off terminology like “social justice,” or “identity politics,” won’t stop what annoys you….we will always have a need to protect the marginalized and oppressed and those categories will shift and gentrify and ghettofy; and at the same time we are all bound up in identities we seem programmed to believe have always been and have no beginning or end.  We know we are wrong, we know we are both past and present and seeding a very diferent future, but we think we are unchanging, charmingly static and frozen in purity.

Naw.

Hell naw.

Meet Michael.

He doesn’t believe in race but he acknowledges the power of racism and knows it is not one thing, but a Madagascar of socio-cultural ills full of names we haven’t had the courage to name and claim, but when we do we are not perpetuating racism but destroying it, acknowledging it is an illusion that can unravel the innate truths we carry in our bodies and bones.

He acknowledges culture.  Culture is real. Culture is not perfect, it is always flawed, it is almost always a bid greedy, jealousy, covetous, insecure, wide eyed and plagaristic.  It is also resilient, elastic, and sexy.  It is all we really have other than our natural inclinations but we are more afraid to explore culture than anything else.

He acknowledges genes and appearances.  There are beautiful people and there are ugly people and neither has anything to do with genes or aesthetics.

I don’t do race because simply put, to paraphrase Pearl Bailey, I want to see G-d everyday in my fellow human beings and I don’t want miss the opportunity.  Food gives this amazing opportunity to taste the richness of the library of human knowledge, life as this precious, achingly terminable experience that we are privileged to enjoy in increments of seconds and breaths.  Food melts and melds genes, appearances and ethnicity and nationality in ways that are package ready, malleable and sweet.  It is no less complicated, contestable, difficult and laced with the importance of unraveling the human story, but it is a way in to peace.

 

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Posted in Elders and Wise Folk, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Michael Twitty Will Become a Culinary Star in 2017 | | Observer

http://observer.com/2017/01/michael-twitty-book-culinary-star/

This piece by David Wallis is here to highlight my forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene. (August 2017, HarperCollins). I’m frank and confessional in this interview and what can I say, I’m just me. Enjoy.

Posted in Events and Appearances, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Pop Culture and Pop Food, Publications, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Corn Shaped the Black Culinary Experience/Southern Foodways Alliance 2016.

http://www.southernfoodways.org/black-corn/?platform=hootsuite

My presentation at the Southern Foodways Alliance 2016 on corn and the story of the African Diaspora and American slavery. Please enjoy and share! WARNING…I have NO CHILL IN THIS TALK.

Posted in African American Food History, African Food Culture, Cultural Politics, Events and Appearances, Food and Slavery, Food Philosophy at Afroculinaria, Heirloom Gardening/Heritage Breeds and Wildcrafting, Pop Culture and Pop Food, The Cooking Gene | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments