Culinary Historian Michael Twitty on The Souls of Southern Food
November 4, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Boston University recently hosted culinary historian Michael Twitty as part of its Pépin Lecture Series. Here's what he had to say about his memoir, The Cooking Gene, and the "search for my food roots and family routes during the first 250 odd years of American history."

From his lecture:
My book traces the history of African American foodways in its main crucible, slavery in the colonial and antebellum South, with deep roots in the civilizations of West and Central Africa. From enslavement to emancipation, I put the microscope on myself to discern my own place in our shared history. Who am I as an African American, a Jew, a gay man, the descendant of four centuries of Black Americans, and an avid, obsessive devotee of living history, the gastronomic craft and the history of Black cuisines, namely but not exclusively that developed by enslaved Blacks in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries—not just for themselves but for their slaveholders, who inevitably were also my Ancestors along with a trickle of others, including Southeastern indigenous nations. Who owns Southern food and who created Southern food is a question that has mostly been in the mouths of those whose perspective has been one of privilege by position, authority by default and a history written by the victors in the centering of white supremacy.
A BU student reflects on the lecture. More about Twitty from NPR's food blog, The Salt. Twitty previously, previously, and previously.
posted by MonkeyToes (9 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
That pull from his lecture is powerful. And a reminder that food is a history that we consume day to day. Good share.
posted by Fizz at 3:41 PM on November 4, 2017

Can't dig into this right now, but I love Twitty. I'm sure his earlier "Culinary Justice" talk is buried in the previously links, but always worth another look.
posted by lkc at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Twitty is great! Thanks for posting.
posted by ferret branca at 8:38 PM on November 4, 2017

While most coverage of Twitty talks about his work with African-American foodways (which makes sense since it’s what his book is about), he’s also done some amazing work on Jewish foodways, which this Forward piece from one of the Previously links talks about. It also features this incredible quote:

“Black guy, heritage, food justice, ghetto people, eat broccoli – that was cool, but me being complicated and Jewish and all that other stuff was not cool, not marketable, I was, quote, ‘muddying the waters.’ This is America, the water has been done muddy. And [the publisher] said something on the phone, with a nervous laugh: I don’t think America is ready for someone like you. F–k you, I am America.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:54 AM on November 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

I was so mad ... this was at the same time as a John Hodgman reading I'd paid for tickets for several weeks before they announced this lecture, so I missed it. Thank you for sharing the wrap-up!
posted by ChuraChura at 3:05 AM on November 5, 2017

Maybe I'm missing something, but Michael Twitty doesn't seem to have a Wikipedia page. I've become so used to looking up every even marginally-famous person that I'm flummoxed when I don't have a bio to give me context. So is it just me, or has he somehow managed to evade the scrutiny of the Internet?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:44 AM on November 5, 2017

In case you haven't previously seen those previously links in the OP -- it's definitely worth checking out Twitty's guest episodes on Townsend's 18th Century Cooking, which are some of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite Youtube channels. In each "Food of the Enslaved" episode, Twitty demonstrates historic recipes and explains their significance. There are now four of them available: Okra Soup, Barbecue, Akara, Kush.
posted by ourobouros at 5:14 AM on November 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

just a couple of days ago I started reading a book on the pawpaw fruit which Twitty wrote a foreword for.

The pawpaw is kin to a similarly delicious and ephemeral custard-apple in the Senegambia.

The foreword is a little under 2 pages long, and unlikely to hugely expand your familiarity with Twitty, but it's yet another example of how the foodways of the enslaved (and continuity with pre-enslavement African foodways) which he follows are EVERYWHERE in America.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:09 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don’t think America is ready for someone like you. F–k you, I am America.

Yes, exactly this. I'm partway through The Cooking Gene, and am struck by the way Twitty presents history as messy and complicated--not just the nation's history, but his own. And I love the way that he embraces that with such love, sincerity, humor, and bravery: F–k you, I am America!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:18 AM on November 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

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