The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Culinary Memoir
Representation: African American, Jewish, and Queer/Gay
Content Warning: In depth descriptions of slavery and the middle passage.
A culinary historian travels the routes of his ancestors in the Old South, immersing himself in a complex weaving of food history and politics, genealogy and genetics, and discovers on the way surprising truths about family, identity, and the destiny of the Southern table. - Afroculinaria (a food blog authored by Michael W. Twitty)
“This is how we remembered each other, by what we ate.”
A fascinating look at how food, history, and genealogy are intertwined! I found Twitty’s search for his own roots relatable, as I’m sure that many other African Americans do. My 4 star rating is for the amount of work that went into this book, the information Twitty connected, and the overall story.
"By then [1820s], Yankee mills were importing Southern slave-grown cotton, with new immigrants working within. To put it another way, cotton gave English, Scottish, then Irish and German Immigrants a reason to come to an industrializing, modernizing, postcolonial nation."
However, I feel like I can’t quite give it 5 stars because it felt disjointed and repetitive, at times. It also seemed a bit too long. Regardless, I enjoyed this book and will likely revisit it for its recipes and explanations for the many habits and folkways that he revealed have been passed down. I also love the way that Twitty included Indigenous peoples in the South in this food history because it seems that they are often left out or not connected to African Americans in historical texts.
“I have been told, ‘ You can’t be everything.’ ‘You’re not really British/Irish/French…’ But our ancestors had complicated relationships across color lines, or were violated. It’s not our responsibility to make people feel comfortable with this fact or to rationalize the rules of cultural inheritance. On the other hand [when African Americans assert our ‘Africanity’]...we are reminded that we aren’t ‘pure,’ as if that was the original assertion.”