It may seem a bit odd that as a white family we are sharing about Black History, but hear me out. We have 3 young girls we are currently homeschooling and therefore in charge of what they learn about the history of our country. Under normal circumstances, I would schedule a slew of events, activities and experiences so they could learn about Black history from authentic sources. But alas, it’s covid times and all of those in person opportunities are gone this year. We are taking advantage of the virtual resources available, but decided to also do some learning together as a family.
We believe that Black history is American history, but we also know that so much of the history taught in schools and portrayed in media is centered around the white experience or seen through the white lens. We are not sure how to change that, but we know we can change what and how we teach our children. So join us as we inquire into Black history in America as a family.
We don’t know how long we will homeschool, but we are hopeful that these types of family learning experiences will continue no matter where or how our children are being schooled. This year we are going to celebrate Black History Month by exploring the food in Black communities throughout history. We have fairly young kids, they are currently 7, 6 & 4 and we are hopeful that food will help give our girls perspective. Food helps tell a story about daily life, culture and experiences.
The idea to learn about Black food history was born from a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon in December of 2019. We were visiting as part of a holiday celebration. During a tour of the Mansion we saw an amazing spread of holiday treats. We were especially taken by the hedgehog cake, so much so that we ended up making one ourselves that year. Moments later, we were standing in the kitchen just off the Mansion, hearing about the enslaved people who created all the magnificent food served to the Washingtons and their guests. I stopped listening to the tour guide after hearing that although many enslaved workers had Christmas off, the kitchen workers would have been preparing food for the family’s Christmas dinner.
I couldn’t stop thinking about those enslaved cooks. The tour guide had mentioned two specific enslaved cooks, Nathan and Lucy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what their lives were like. Were they able to eat any of the food they worked so hard to prepare? No. What then did they eat? How and where did they, and other enslaved workers prepare their food daily? And so began our exploration into the history of food in Black communities.
We have spent the first few weeks of February compiling resources. We have been reading about the many contributions by African Americans to our National cuisine and the creation of soul food. The more we learn, the more questions we have. These questions have led us to some amazing resources like Michael Twitty, Alexis Nikole AKA Black Forager and Black Foodie. Follow us on Instagram as we explore soul food through local restaurants and in our own kitchen over the next few weeks.
As we continue to grow our list of resources I will be updating it here. This is in no way an exhaustive list. Please feel free to drop more resources or recommendations in the comments and we will add them to our list.
- Michael W. Twitty is a James Beard Award winning author of the book The Cooking Gene. He also has a blog afroculinaria.com where you can find more about him and his journey.
- The Black Forager is an über plant nerd who uses her extensive knowledge to forage for food in her neighborhood. She shares her knowledge on TikTok and Instagram.
- The Black Foodie has an abundance of information including some history of soul food a ton of guides for cooking at home. We were also really interested in the 4 ancestral foods to boost your immune system as we try to stay healthy during the pandemic.
- This article on the Thirteen website offers some examples of the variation in living conditions for enslaved people including some information about food.
- National Geographic’s 5 African Foods You Thought Were American illustrates just how much of our staple American food was brought here through slavery.
- This list of 16 Black Innovators Who Changed Food Forever on Food Beast includes Abby Fisher, the author of one of the first cookbooks ever authored by an African-American woman.
- This article on Caliplate is a good round up the contributions by African Americans to our food. This list includes agriculture, potato chips, ice cream scoop, bread kneading machine, biscuit cutter, refrigeration and cookies by Wally Amos.
- The New York Times article 6 Black Chefs (and 1 Inventor) Who Changed the History of Food includes James Hemings the first American trained as a French chef.
Through this inquiry into how Black Americans have shaped our food, our kids have become more interested in where foods come from and what we can learn from food. We can’t wait for the new Netflix series Waffles + Mochi!