I admit it! I heard of this concept through the vessel of NPR (Shameless plug: If you have not ventured into NPR (National Public Radio) you are missing it! They have everything!), I found the unapologetically Black chef, Michael Twitty.
His passion is food, empowering communities that struggle with food insecurity, and historical preservation of culinary traditions.
I am a FAN of Michael Twitty! When he mentioned this idea of culinary justice he described it as the availability for all people to get access to food, and how it is sourced. The awesome thing about the work Michael Twitty does is because it is so revolutionary! The man know people knew how to make sure a stove in the antebellum American South was hot! He knows the way most African American people made rice–what part of Africa that comes from!
Listening to him, really listening to him, it is almost as if all the ancestors are reaching back through him. There is a conviction and connection in all the information he gives, and it is comforting.
In one of his talks in 2017, Michael talks about this respect that needs to be given to those ancestors that worked in kitchens–as cooks. He reminded the audience that the folk that worked in kitchens–the enslaved ancestors that worked in kitchens!–where not unskilled labor as the traditional telling of history would have us believe. He reminded the audience of the sheer amount of knowledge these cooks, these chefs, had to have in order to cook as they did. One of the facts he relayed was about James Hemmings–the brother of Sally Hemmings. THAT SALLY HEMMINGS.
History would have us believe it was Thomas Jefferson that ‘introduced’ French food to the colonies. It wasn’t. It was his cook, Sally’s brother, James: a Paris trained chef. An example of the foods he introduced: Vanilla ice cream, macaroni and cheese and what we know and call French fries. Oh! And he wrote those recipes down–because he could read and write.
Michael Twitty is out here doing the righteous work of decolonizing the table. He is decolonizing the language around food and how other cultures whom are not familiar with the cuisine we call ‘soul food’ describe it. He sent a letter to Paula Deen telling her it was not her grandmother that ‘invented’ hoe cakes! He then commenced to tell her where hoe cake came from, and how a real hoe cake was made.
Spoiler: It wasn’t some White woman’s kitchen.
He’s my hero!
The things I know about cooking have been taught to be by oral traditions–my father, mother and grandmother. One of the things that I thought was interested was the phrases he was decoding. Two of them was farm to table and whole animal cooking.
When Black folk were in charge of the sourcing of their food farm to table was the only thing they, we, could do. Don’t let Whole Foods and all these other places think just because something is farm to table it is a new concept! Whole animal cooking is not a new! Pig ears, snoots, chittlins–we did all that! There was no other way we could have or would have survived otherwise!
There is a wisdom in this type of cultural activism. Michael Twitty is bringing two world together–closing gaps in time, and teaching the meaning behind all these things I/me/we/all of us were taught. What I find so fascinating is his knowledge base and how he marries it with and to the world around him! But this is what real teachers do! They make what they are teaching, the information they need to convey applicable to everyday life.
How he speaks with passion and conviction about respecting farmers, about reminding Black folx that we can be brilliant and love to cook. He is reminding us there is no shame from working in a kitchen
Michael Twitty is making being Black a little more lit. And I bet his biscuits are always fire.
[Image from thewashingtonian.com and Audible.com]