We hope ya'll having a great week and spending this month celebrating everything Blackity-Black (although like we said last week, we do this everyday).
This week, we got some education for you and some things we wanted to get off our chests.
Hit us up in our inbox and let us know what you think!
Black Cuisine is Resilient: 10 Foods Celebrated by the Diaspora
Black people are a strong people– and that’s not by choice. Considering the complex and volatile journey that we have endured from coming to America – (whether through enslavement, exile, or immigration) – there's a lot of understandable confusion on the origins of Black culture and traditions. Soul, Southern, African, Caribbean, Creole and Cajun food create the vibrant and innovative cuisines that connect us to the African Diaspora, provide cultural expression and symbolism for all Black households.
Here is a list of 10 Black food traditions and their origins:
One thing about Granny’s house, she gon’ have a pot of greens boiling for Sunday dinner. Sources show that Mande women (West Africa) would serve fried chicken with collard greens and dumplings. Traditionally, greens represent money and good luck due to their rich green color.
The tradition to cook black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve has Black families in a chokehold, chile! But, why? The story is that troops in the Civil War ignored the fields of black-eyed peas when they were out pillaging and stealing crops. It was dead Winter and troops went back to the fields to find that the black-eyed peas not only survived the cold weather, but were also in abundance, making the peas a representation of good luck and mystical power. In the South, it is a symbol of fortune and prosperity.
Candied sweet potatoes, aka yams, originated in 16th century Europe. However, Native Americans also would bake root vegetables using campfires and colonizers brought that tradition with them to the South where the term and preparation of candied yams was born. Why do people say yams instead of candied sweet potatoes? Well, that goes back to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade – no surprise there! – where traders would feed their captives black-eyed peas and yams while traveling through the Middle Passage. Yams are important to West African food traditions and heritage, although America produces more sweet potatoes than yams, we still use the term yams, for the culture.
Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe traveled from Europe to Virginia in the late 1700s. Thomas Jefferson has been credited for bringing mac and cheese to the South, however, it was his enslaved chef, James Hemings, that prepared the dish as we know it today. Hemings used his training from a French chef and his own African culinary influences to create a version of the “macaroni cheese pie” suitable for the wealthy and the poor. After Emancipation, macaroni and cheese became a celebratory, convenient comfort food for Black families – and you better know how to cook cook if you bring the mac n cheese to Thanksgiving dinner! Either that, or risk being disowned.
The South is known for its peach production, hints the term “Georgia Peaches,” but the recipe for cooking or baking peaches has English roots. In 1569, a plague outbreak led to merchants being prohibited from selling raw fruit, so when English settlers journeyed to the South during the antebellum era, peach cobbler became a dessert that they could resonate with. Black communities transformed peach cobbler from “slave food” to comfort food and it has been a dessert staple for centuries. Your peach cobbler better not be runny!
Sweet Potato Pie
Black people showed up and showed out when Patti Labelle dropped her Patti Pies, and we love that for us. Sweet potato pie derived from European influences as Henry VIII’s appetite for sweet potato tarts coined the dish as an aphrodisiac and ultimately ended up at the plantation Big Houses in the antebellum South. For many Black people, sweet potato pie represents family. It’s a dish that instantly transports people back to memories of Sunday dinner, Thanksgiving, or any gathering with family and food.
Although corn was a major part of the Colonial diet, Southern cooks transformed the recipe by adding sugar or honey to create the cornbread that many Black families adore today. Cornbread holds a lot of weight in the Black community. A part of it’s allure is that certain meals are not complete without it. Due to its golden color, cornbread is also a representation of riches.
Also known as “freedom soup”, soup joumou is a Haitian tradition that started in 1804 after the Haitian Revolution. Slaves were forbidden from eating the creamy pumpkin and beef blended soup, so when Haitians got their independence, you couldn’t tell them NOTHING about soup joumou and it became a symbol of liberation, pride, and freedom.
In the words of Martin Lawerence, “Don’t touch my momma biscuits!” In Black households, biscuits can be a main or side dish and its resourcefulness is what makes it unapologetically Black. During the antebellum South, biscuits were tough, flat, and typically only eaten in wealthy homes. At that time it was more common for people to eat cornbread but in the 19th century, innovations such as flour mills and increased wheat production lowered the costs for the necessary ingredients to make biscuits. Therefore, it became a staple for impoverished communities in the South.
Hushpuppies are small, deep-fried cornmeal dumplings that are traditionally served with fried catfish. There are various theories as to who, how and where the term was created. Some say New Orleans, some say Atlanta, others France – but it’s safe to say that the dish was most embraced by Southern cooks.
Black food traditions are rooted in cooking with love and tenacity. Our ancestral aunties and uncles reinvented the dishes by elevating the ingredients to be creative in resources and rich in flavor, sparking folklore that foster spiritual and financial prosperity.
Dear Michelin, Where is the Love for Black Chefs?
If you don’t know what Michelin stars are, have a seat, cuz we bout’ to school you right quick. Michelin stars originated in 1926 when the Michelin tire company created a culinary guidebook, The Michelin Guide, which became the highest accolade in the industry. The three Michelin-star ranking system has been criticized in the past as being exclusive and reserved for expensive, “high-end” establishments – which requires a significant amount of visibility to even be considered. (So you already know where we’re headed with this, right? Black people? Visibility? Recognition? Nooo!)
The first black man to earn a Michelin star was French chef Louis-Philippe Vigilant, who made history in 2014, at Loiseau des Ducs restaurant in Dijon, France. In 2018, the Guardian reported that throughout 165 Michelin Star restaurants in the UK, there were only two Black head chefs. In 2020, Mariya Russell, head chef at Kikkō, became the first black woman in the 93-year history of the Michelin Guide to earn a star.
For Black chefs, the struggle to achieve their industry’s highest honor is real.
There are several barriers, including cuisine independence and visibility, that keep Black people from being seen, heard and included in the conversation amongst Michelin guide decision-makers. But that ain’t nothin’ new, right? Only 29 Black chefs are on the Michelin Guide – a list of recommended establishments that may or may not have a Michelin star – which doesn’t even scrape the surface of innovative Black chefs in the U.S. The list shows that inspectors continue to pigeonhole Black cooking as just Southern or Caribbean based classics.
The obsession with associating Caribbean, African and soul food exclusively with Black chefs stems from the Jim Crow era. Oftentimes, Black chefs are pressured or intimidated into providing an elaborate expression of their heritage to justify their existence in the food scene. While the restaurant industry has been a safe space for underrepresented communities by hiring felons, providing youth (often before the legal working age) a place to learn hard work, employing undocumented workers, etc., professional mobility is a privilege that Black cooks aren’t always afforded.
The COVID-19 pandemic humbled everyone, but Black-owned bars and restaurants were down bad after mandates began to close their businesses, which only further hinders their visibility in the industry. Black business owners didn’t have the same assurance as their white counterparts in securing a PPP loan to keep their businesses afloat. We already know that major banks don’t really rock with Black people –*Kanye voice* – and even when they do, many customers just couldn’t afford to eat out. The Texas Restaurant Association estimates between nine and ten thousand restaurant closures since the start of the pandemic.
Black chefs are fighting for visibility, equality and freedom – without it, it’s unrealistic to expect any momentum in securing a Michelin star. There are several organizations such as Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) that take diversity, equity and inclusion and food justice very seriously and are committed to improving the wages and working conditions in the industry. The Michelin Guide has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to diversity, but Black chefs will continue to pivot and serve amazing food with or without the recognition.