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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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“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)
“Michael W. Twitty’s culinary and linguistic gifts are beautifully intertwined in The Cooking Gene, but it’s Twitty’s agency here – the way his journey through the South’s cultural history tackles race, gender, faith, morality, and sexual orientation in a way earlier historians ignored – that makes this volume essential reading for all Americans. Twitty leaves no stone unturned – and no ingredient uncooked! – in his riveting quest to chronicle the African-American roots of Southern cooking.” (Matt Lee and Ted Lee, authors of The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen)
“The Cooking Gene is a revelation. Michael W. Twitty approaches his ancestral and culinary history from Africa to America, and occasionally back to Europe, with the precision of a surgeon and the passion of an artist. His adept storytelling carried me away to another time and I am deeply moved by the experience.” (Carla Hall, co-host of The Chew, author of Cooking with Love and Carla’s Comfort Foods)
“Michael W. Twitty shines a stunningly bright light on the state of Southern food with this quest to find himself. He is a clarion, focusing our minds on what this state of sustenance really means, where it comes from and the impacts it has had and still has. The Cooking Gene is a much-needed addition to the culinary perspective of American food.” (Hugh Acheson, chef and author of A New Turn in the South)
“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)
“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))
“Fascinating… A valuable addition to culinary and Old South historiography with lip-smacking period recipes.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“In this amazing memoir of food culture, Twitty draws the connection between Hemings and many other historic individuals and contemporary notions of southern cuisine that have ignored a neglected and often-bitter past. This is a joyous journey of discovery by a man with obvious love for history and the culinary arts.” (Booklist (Starred review))
“Fascinating.” (New York Times Book 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)
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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Top customer reviews
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.