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The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South Hardcover – August 1, 2017
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“Fascinating.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way… An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Twitty has accomplished something remarkable with The Cooking Gene... It’s a book to save, reread, and share until everyone you know has a working understanding of the human stories and pain behind some of America’s most foundational and historically significant foods.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“Should there ever be a competition to determine the most interesting man in the world, Michael W. Twitty would have to be considered a serious contender.” (Washington Post)
“Slavery made the world of our ancestors incredibly remote to us. Thankfully, the work of Michael W. Twitty helps restore our awareness of their struggles and successes bite by bite, giving us a true taste of the past.” (Dr. Henry Louis Gates, host of PBS’ Many Rivers to Cross and Finding Your Roots)
“Written in Michael W. Twitty’s no-nonsense style and interlaced with moments of levity, The Cooking Gene is gritty, compelling, and enlightening – a mix of personal narrative and the history of race, politics, economics and enslavement that will broaden notions of African-American culinary identity.” (Toni Tipton-Martin, James Beard Award-winning author of The Jemima Code)
“Fascinating.… A valuable addition to culinary and Old South historiography with lip-smacking period recipes.” (Library Journal (starred review))
From the Back Cover
Culinary historian Michael W. Twitty brings a fresh perspective to our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom.
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.
Twitty travels from the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields to tell of the struggles his family faced and how food enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and black-owned organic farms in Georgia.
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the South’s past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power of food to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.
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The Cooking Gene repositions the conversation about race in America through its food history. Slavery is an incredibly difficult subject to address, much less understand. How can people subject other people to unspeakable cruelty? One element that distinguished the Transatlantic Slave Trade from other types of slavery throughout time is that the enslavers actively stripped the enslaved people of their identities and connections to their homelands.
But as Michael so adeptly realized through his interest in both history and food is that you can't strip away how people cook. So, the victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade retained their cooking techniques and shared them with others. Over time their foodways became our foodways. But even though his enslaved ancestors couldn't pass down their cultural identities as my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors could, they passed down their foodways to him along with their actual DNA.
The Cooking Gene is a book to be cherished but also one to be digested. Thank you Michael for taking the journey as uncomfortable as it may have been at times. Discomfort has lead to a beautiful piece of art.