In this year of Black Lives Matter, America has been looking deeply into its own heart.
But the way to the heart, as a writer once said, is through the stomach. And the story of African food, with its many offshoots in America and elsewhere, seemed like a good way to get at some bigger truths.
It’s a story of pride, ingenuity, resilience. It’s also a story of pain. But out of it came a gift to the world: more delicious things to eat than you can wrap your mind, or your tongue, around.
In our series “From the African Table,” our writers, photographers, filmmakers and storytellers hope to make your mouth water. But we also hope to engage your mind, and enlist your heart. Here are some takeaways:
First person:Remembering Fried Fish Fridays with my grandparents
• Almost every offshoot of African cuisine can be found within driving distance: Ethiopian, Moroccan, East African, Caribbean, Southern American. You can eat your way around the world and never leave home!
• The cuisine of the Africa, and its spinoffs around the world, is incredibly diverse. But you can still connect the dots. African Jollof rice turns up in the U.S. as New Orleans jambalaya. The leafy greens of Africa become the collards at your local soul food restaurant.
• Peanuts, rice, kola (as in Coke and Pepsi) are some of the iconic American foods that came here by way of Africa and African-Americans.
• Soul Food is an old idea, but not such an old term. Like soul music, it was coined in the 1960s: a time of Black identity and Black expression.
• Women were some of the main architects of soul food. For many, the kitchen was an arena of pride, power, creativity.
• Soul food does not have to be unhealthy. It just has to taste great!
• Black superstar chefs are nothing new. “Hercules” Posey, George Washington’s chef, was the toast of Philadelphia. Rufus Estes, master chef with the Pullman railroad company, served meals to presidents and celebrities.
• The food of Africa, and the African diaspora, is for everyone. But it has a special meaning for African-Americans and others of African descent. It has to do with family, ancestors, identity. There’s more here than meets the taste buds.
Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his insightful reports about how you spend your leisure time, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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