February 27, 2018

Food history and politics in America with Michael Twitty and Eater's "Eating Out Loud"

Michael Twitty is an author and culinary historian who tells stories about his family, food and politics. All of his work ultimately reveals something about the current situation in the United States. He seeks to show how food connects people while also revealing all the emotions behind food that most people don’t think about when they eat.

In a series by Eater called Eating Out Loud, author and reporter Jessica Valenti sits with Twitty to discuss how to express curiosity about food and to delve deeper into the history of food. Twitty works at Colonial Williamsburg as a culinary interpreter to bring to life the moments food was created in history. In telling the story of African-American food he helps form a more accurate history of American food as a whole.

Key points in their conversation:

  • Twitty on appropriation and how much Southern slaveowners and Confederate generals enjoyed African-American food: “Some folks have no problem hating on you, but they also have no problem eating your food.”
  • Twitty on facing up to the difficult history of some of the foods we eat: “Food is always political and food is always personal.”
  • Twitty on connecting food and justice: “It’s important for people to educate themselves. It’s about learning, it’s about asking people questions. People have to sit down with their friends, family, coworkers and say, ‘I want to understand this. Why do you get mad when white people make this food? What does this food mean to you?’”

Twitty expresses this idea in his conversation with Valenti that is elaborated on in his book The Cooking Gene that “food is my flag.” His concept is that the food you grew up eating and that you serve to your family is emblematic of yourself as an individual and what you stand for. Twitty suggests that to grow up in one geographic area your whole life and not know the history of the food you regularly eat is to be missing out on a complete understanding of your heritage. Food as a category seems to be often overlooked when learning about the history of a people, passed over in favor of information about wars and political leaders. But since we eat everyday, it’s this kind of lived history that could be more rewarding to our understanding of ourselves and others.

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