7 mouthwatering dishes that show the African origins of Southern soul food.

It's time for some Southern discomfort.

Michael Twitty is a southerner, a Jew, a cook, a gay black man, a TED fellow, a historian, and an all around cool dude.

I first discovered him in a Washington Post article about his work uncovering and illuminating the African-American origins of southern cooking.


OOooh!

He’s a man who spends his time trying to deeply understand, uncover, and then share the roots of the food he loves. And he goes to great lengths to do it — he once spent 16 hours picking cotton to get the experience of his ancestors.

Another time, he met with the white descendants of the family that once OWNED his ancestors to compare recipes of their families!

He writes about these experiences and more on his hugely popular blog, Afroculinaria.

Through food, Twitty sees a way to heal old American wounds.

Twitty is on a mission to bring attention and appreciation to the true roots of our favorite Southern dishes.

He calls it "culinary justice."

As he wrote in an open letter to Paula Deen (that later went viral):

"In the world of Southern food, we are lacking a diversity of voices and that does not just mean Black people — or Black perspectives! We are surrounded by culinary injustice where some Southerners take credit for things that enslaved Africans and their descendants played key roles in innovating. Barbecue, in my lifetime, may go the way of the Blues and the banjo... a relic of our culture that whisps away. "

As a semi-Southern white person, I've often looked at Southern food, culture, history and been like, "There's a lot more here that I don't know about."

Well, turns out there is!

Here are some of Twitty's favorite authentic dishes, all of which went on to have a huge influence on Southern soul food.

I dug through Twitty's Twitter account to find these gems. And now I am hungry. Join me.

1. Fried chicken and sweet potatoes

A true classic!

Many people see these dishes as classic Southern fare, but there's a LOT more to Southern culinary traditions, as you'll see below.

Here's a nod to the so-called classic, with a very authentic twist — prepared over open coals! #impressive.

2. Kush, aka the original cornbread stuffing

Twitty's recipe was featured in Vice magazine's Munchies:

“Kush was a cornbread scramble made from the basic elements of the antebellum ration system, which spread from the enslaved person’s quarters outward to the Big House and the kitchens of whites high and low.”

The kush above is prepared with quail. You can find the recipe for Twitty's kush here.

3. West African stew

Any Southern person has a special relationship with okra. Trust me.

Twitty (and this stew below) is no different. He prepares an authentic West African stew featuring the mythical okra, a tropical plant native to Africa.

Here's the recipe (with links to the tweets!):

  1. Heat the palm oil.
  2. Add the sweet potatoes.
  3. Add the onions and okra and fry over high heat.
  4. Add soaked salt fish and a few chopped tomatoes, maybe garlic.
  5. Add fresh greens and stir gently; salt to taste.
  6. Add red pepper and stew until vegetables are done and salt fish is flaked and hot.
  7. Watch out for bones. Eat stew with your favorite starch.

And if you're wondering what that fluffy mashed-potato-like substance is, it's...

4. Fufu

Twitty recently collaborated with Colonial Williamsburg to illuminate the culinary traditions of slaves during that time period. The dishes are nothing if not period appropriate at Colonial Williamsburg, and this highlight is just one of many that serves to bring the stories of American slaves into the light.

Fufu "is to Western and Central Africa cooking what mashed potatoes are to traditional European-American cooking."

Oh, and high-five for Colonial Williamsburg not shying away from acknowledging America's legacy of slavery!

5. Akara

Akara are black-eyed pea fritters!

Black-eyed peas, or Vigna unguiculata, are actually native to Asia and the Mediterranean, and they were first domesticated in West Africa.

6. Gullah Geechee winter greens and rice

As Twitty stated in a cooking video with ChefsFeed, "Gullah and Geechee were colloquial names for the Africans that were brought to the [American Southern coastal] area to grow rice"

The dish is essentially collard greens simmered in a homemade ginger-peanut butter-coconut milk. This recipe is vegan and gluten free, just FYI.

Feast your eyes.

I want to go there. You can learn more about the recipe by watching the video here. Image via ChefsFeed/YouTube.

And as for the plain and simple rice? Let's remember its origins.


7. Guinea yam fried in palm oil


The Igbo people are an ethnic group of Africans that still exist today. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, though, many Igbo people were brought to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland colonies, making that particular ethnic group the largest in the region.

So naturally it follows that these folks would've had a huge influence on the way food was prepared — bringing their own traditions and methods with them. Including dishes like this one.

To find the origins of these dishes, Michael Twitty sought out recipes not just from his family, but from the descendants of the family that once enslaved his ancestors.

And yes, he's related by blood to some of those descendants of slave owners, too. It's a whole mix of history and food, shame and love.

It's crazy to think about ... but so is America.

It's about time we recognized that the folks who profit off Southern food — like Paula Deen and Colonel Sanders — aren't necessarily the only ones who made it what it is today.

Michael Twitty's job isn't just to whip up fantastic looking dishes. It's to make sure everyone knows that Southern food has deeper roots in black American culture than we ever realized.

Most Shared

Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

Democracy
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy