The impetus behind this book can best be summarized with this quote: "When you are oppressed, how you survive your oppression is your greatest form of cultural capital." African American slaves and their descendants used food not only to feed themselves, but also to communicate the story of their origins in Ghana, the Congo, Angola, Senegambia, Nigeria, and many other places in west, central, and southeastern Africa. Of course, the majority of African Americans have at least some European ancestry, and the food traditions brought over by those ancestors, as well as the indigenous American cultures they interacted with, are also part of the story of African American food.
Twitty tells this story as part of his journey into his genealogy. (While modern DNA testing has helped many tease out ancestry that was obscured by captivity, some holes still remain.) He goes backward in time, beginning with his own childhood in D.C. and his first inklings of his family's food culture, and ends up in both Liverpool, England (the site where many slave ships were built and financed), and describes a friend's "reverse Middle Passage" to Ghana. At every point, he sees a contribution to the food legacy he inherited.
Twitty is a terrific writer and kept me engrossed as he told the painful story of slavery, both in his family and in the country writ large. (He also, not incidentally, gives some of the clearest descriptions of the rituals and meaning behind Judaism, the religion he converted to). Warning: don't read Chapter 17 in public; it's here that he explores the auction block, and it wouldn't be surprising if you started tearing up while reading it.
Brilliant, thought-provoking......AND a easy-reading style that makes turning the pages of this magnificent book about identity, history, and finally finding and appreciating your own self and culture addictive.
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