Afro-Texan Culinary Connection (podcast)

Jan 27th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Articles, podcast, the show
Michael Twitty cooking "old school."

Michael Twitty cooking “old school.”

Food is life…it is family…and it reflects our cultural identity. Food is steeped in meaning,  ritual and tradition.

Michael Twitty understand this. He is a culinary historian.

He explained that a culinary historian is someone who explores cultural, social and material history through food. He said he studies cuisines, culinary people — cooks, chefs, mothers, specialists — and their stories.

He curates the blog www.afroculinaria.com, and is a sought after speaker and culinary history interpreter. He and says enslaved Africans in Texas, or Afro-Texans,  contributed substantially to the foodways of Texas.

Food is a bridge that connects cultures. Our lives and our stories can be told with the plates of food we serve and share. For southerners and Texans, much of that food, said Michael, was created and co-created by enslaved Africans. Today we have the opportunity to look back and trace our roots, and discover our connection to other cultures and civilizations. Yet, Michael is quick to point out his work is about more than just simply understanding these shared traditions.

“I think one of the most important things people can take away from my work is understand that by eating food that has origins in the African Diaspora, one is participating in that civilization and culture. And likewise, we [Africans] are a part of the American culture — the Western World — through how our ancestor’s food tastes have changed. So, it’s a culinary interdependence that we really want to reach towards.”

From Michael Twitty I leaned Africans brought to North America during the slave trade were not part of a randomly chosen unskilled labor force. He says they were carefully selected for their abilities and ended up in areas of the south where those skills were most needed, be it mining or building,  or — in Texas — herding and agriculture.

“Think about all the familiar foods on the Texas table, and all of the cash crops on which Texas agriculture was built — rice, cotton, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, okra and sorghum — and you’re talking about things Africans were growing centuries before their arrival in North America, or had access to a century or two before they became major crops here in the south,” he said.

So, it’s a “critical piece of the story” to understand enslaved Africans had marketable skills, which is why they were so valuable in terms of the Transatlantic slave trade.

These enslaved people grew food, tended livestock, and  were responsible for cooking in the “big house” where some of the dishes they created for the property owners were sublime. yet we know so little of their influence on our food culture today.

If Michael Twitty has his way — that’s going to change.

Our shared history at the table is undeniable. And perhaps at the table, and with the help of people like Michael Twitty, is where we will  join together and take a bite out of that which keeps us apart.

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