Food: Life, Art, Culture, Science

What we eat, how we eat, and who we eat with, reflects and refracts history, current affairs, the personal and the political. As the holiday season approaches, with all the focus on food that it brings, contemplating the nature of food and the larger role it plays beyond basic survival may provide some interesting conversation at the dinner table.

African American chefs, food historians, and heritage gardeners have long extolled the importance of understanding not only where the foods one purchases today come from, but also the culinary history of African Americans. It is a rich history shaped by place of origin, travails of enslavement, and cultivating the soils in the new land.

George Washington Carver, agronomist and scientist, laid the groundwork allowing today's food historians and chefs to embrace and share this rich food heritage.  Carver was an early promoter of helping black farmers better understand their land and crops to give them greater economic power, knowledge, and control of their resources.

Burgundy okra
Edna Lewis was a seminal figure in the food landscape of the 20th century. She was a ground breaker as a female chef, a black female chef no less, as she fed New Yorkers simple, elegant Southern cooking. Her legacy is the creation of the Edna Lewis Foundation dedicated to "honor, cultivate, and preserve, the rich African-American culinary history by offering a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and promote a deeper understanding of Southern culinary culture and heritage." And as importantly, to educate, train, and mentor young African American chefs.

There currently are a number of black chefs whose restaurants and books have made an impact on American food enthusiasts. These include  Marcus Samuelsson in New York; Wayne Johnson and  Daisley Gordon in Seattle. There have been awards and ceremonies celebrating black chefs, including black chefs of the White House.

And last, but not least, there is you, dear reader. If guidance and inspiration is needed, check out Black America Cooks for ideas about cookbooks celebrating African American cooking, dishes new to you, and what other food enthusiasts are thinking about. And, if you want to go back to primary sources, here is a link to a discussion of the first African American Cookbook (1866!) by Mrs. Malinda Russell. Fifteen years after Mrs. Russell published her book, Mrs. Abby Fisher, an ex-slave, published "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking". She subsequently started a catering business in San Francisco. Have any family stories about particular recipes, food events, vegetable gardening? a comment!

We are Them, They are Us.

In early October, launched, with support from the Pride Foundation, a new section on the history of African Americans and people of African descent in other parts of the world who are LGBTQ (Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer). This is a major milestone in affirming the rights and humanity of all. It is unfortunate that all LGBTQ people do not find this support from their fellow citizens. To understand just what peril so many people face who just want to live their lives in peace with those they love, this map of Africa is an eye-opener.

Same-sex sexual activity legal
  Same-sex marriage recognized
  Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation) recognized
  Foreign same-sex marriages recognized
  No recognition of same-sex couples
Same-sex sexual activity illegal
  Life in prison
  Death penalty
(to see a breakdown by country of this data, go to this link here)
 There is a rich history in literature and the arts by and about LGBTQ African Americans and Africans in the diaspora. Many of these are found at this link on
An excellent place start reading is Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent
A second choice is Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction
For another list of fiction and contextual description, check here.
And finally, a moment of silence for all those hounded to misery and death by hate and ignorance.
Two references appeared in the news today (months after this post appeared) that will give the reader some more current information. The first link is to a series of articles in, the online news service.  The second article was in the Seattle Times reporting the fine line US diplomats and President Obama have to tread when promoting gay rights in African nations.