How to Teach Black History Using African American Food

Soul food is excellent for the soul, and by understanding how to teach Black History using African American Food, we can dive into its origins, which are intertwined with African-Americans’ long and rich culinary history.

Pot liquor, often known as “potlicker” or “pot likker,” is a historically significant American delicacy that is frequently overlooked. The broth at the bottom of a pot of greens is undoubtedly the greatest component. Slave Black Americans learned that pot liquor tastes best when it contains the smokey flavor of ham or turkey hock, which they discovered when sopping it up with cornbread.

According to experts, plantation owners retained the leafy greens for themselves, while pot liquor and cornbread were sometimes the only food enslaved Blacks received during the week, which is possibly why some are unable to celebrate it. But Erick Williams says it is vital to honor since the rich broth nourished African People during the most terrible period in American history.

“[Pot liquor] contains the most nutrients and fiber; without it, many slaves would not have survived,” says Williams, chef, and proprietor of Chicago’s Mustard Seed Kitchen and Virtue Restaurant. This demonstrates how much money is in the pot.

Such moving histories of Black American heritage cuisine drive Williams, a James Beard Award finalist for the Southern-inspired Virtue, to teach his 5-year-old son Langston about African American cuisine. He wants Langston to understand that studying the American civil rights movement, Black American pioneers, and other topics is just as essential as understanding the history and legacy of the food.

Williams continues, “I like to speak with him about our cultural contributions and how chefs, farmers, agriculturists, and scientists were able to produce better growing conditions and nutrient-rich dishes.”

He emphasizes the importance of learning about African-American cultural cooking at home. With so many food industry influencers, there is a tendency to neglect parents, grandparents, and other seniors, who provide a wealth of knowledge from a perspective that cannot be learned in a book or classroom.

“In most households, [children] have access to a historical database of oral history relating to how individuals fed themselves, how they sustained themselves, and how they were affected in their communities throughout times of plenty and scarcity,” Williams writes. “It’s wonderful to have little knowledge of Black culinary history, but my family taught me survival skills.”

In addition, they left him a large number of recipes, which gave him a sense of nostalgia and helped him maintain his businesses.

Williams states, “I make a living by selling [my grandmother’s] cornbread for a price.” “I find it remarkable that in our culture, our ancestors have left us such gems that enable us to traverse the difficulties of life.”

Bringing Back Soul Food

The award-winning author Adrian Miller, often known as The Soul Food Scholar, fully supports this practice. “Recipes are an excellent way to educate children,” he explains. “These dishes, like food itself, tell a story. This is an additional teaching point concerning slavery and how plantation owners kept Black slaves ignorant on purpose to prevent them from resisting.”

Miller argues that soul food-dominated African American traditional cuisine receives a negative reputation. He desires that African-Americans reclaim it and not be ashamed of its “slave” beginnings.

“When you look at periodicals, books, television shows, movies, and other media related to Black history, food is frequently omitted,” he argues. “I believe this is because our food culture has been stigmatized due to its associations with slavery. It is vital to understand this food, Black cooks, chefs, and all of the creative people in this food sector because they have contributed to the development of American cuisine and history.”

His three recent books, Soul Food: The Remarkable Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time, are filled with these anecdotes.

Miller investigates the intricacy of the cuisine and its “unique combination of West Africa, Europe, and the Americas” through his novels. He adds, “It’s a coming together of culinary traditions, ingredients, and everything else.”

He also pays honor to the 150 African American men and women who have fed the First Families of the United States, from George Washington to Joe Biden. According to him, these are notable prominent people that parents can teach their children about. This includes George Washington’s enslaved chef Hercules, Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef James Hemings, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s chef Zephyr Wright. Miller asserts that Johnson utilized her Jim Crow background to advocate for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Miller contends that the greatest way for youngsters to comprehend the cuisine is through an interactive experience. He suggests introducing children to the diverse elements of African American food traditions through cooking.

“Teach them about the foods that were brought to the United States from West Africa, such as okra, black-eyed peas, watermelon, sesame seeds, and rice,” he instructs. “This is the place of departure.”

Adopting the Cuisines of the African Diaspora

During her in-person and online “I Need Love” cooking lessons, Maya-Camille Broussard emphasizes teaching youngsters about the origins of different cuisines and recipes. Brossard’s pastry-centric company, Justice of the Pies, aims to nurture disadvantaged and food-insecure populations.

During her lectures on sweet and savory meals, she teaches her students new vocabulary and cooking techniques, which they enjoy. Also, she teaches them Black-centered dishes.

“When we create sweet potato pie or anything sweet potato-related, I discuss the significance of sweet potatoes in our culture,” says Broussard, star of the popular Netflix series Baking Squad. I also discuss the relationship between items within the African diaspora, including plantains, yams, and the connection between West African rice and Gullah-Geechee and Creole traditions.

She asserts that parents can play an active part in educating their children about African diaspora cuisine simply by dining out. “I tell them to explore other Black cultures by leaving their comfort zones,” adds the Chicago-born chef. “Experience Ethiopian cuisine and discuss the advantages of eating with your hands. Google the reasons why in many African countries it is regarded advantageous to eat with one’s hands in order to enhance the digestive tract and boost the immune system.”

African chefs, such as Eric Adjepong, a New Yorker of Ghanaian descent, are also sharing their stories. As a finalist on Season 16 of Top Chef, he is most notable for placing traditional Ghanaian cuisine in the spotlight. Since that time in 2019, Adjepong has utilized his vast platform to keep West African cuisine at the forefront.

Adjepong and his wife Janell run Pinch & Plate, a full-service dinner party and event company. Alex vs. America is a Food Network show in which chefs from various backgrounds fight against Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. And he plans to release two books this fall.

Sankofa will be Adjepong’s debut cookbook, written in partnership with food writer and creator of A Hungry Society Korsha Wilson. It links the cuisines of West Africa with those of the American South, the Caribbean, and South America. The untitled second book for children has two kid-friendly recipes and is partially based on his upbringing in a traditional West African household in New York City.

It is dedicated to his 3-year-old daughter, Lennox, who avidly absorbs facts about her ethnic food, according to the author.

Adjepong states, “She’s just really hands-on in the kitchen.” “She has her very own step stool, and she is constantly in the kitchen. She is asking questions while wearing a little apron.”

Even though he does his best to teach his daughter the history of his home cuisine, Adjepong considers it a “travesty” that remains largely unknown.

“It is imperative that our educational institutions, culinary schools, and industry leaders speak more about these ingredients [originating from West Africa] and cuisines with deep roots,” he says. “We discuss gumbo and shrimp and grits, but we do not discuss their origins.”

Using “Black Food Fridays” to Teach Culinary History

Former educator KJ Kearney intends to fill this hole. His 60-second Black Food Facts and Black Food Fridays show receive thousands of views on Instagram and TikTok, educating viewers on all topics about black cuisine. From the origins of the ice cream scoop (1897, Alfred L. Cralle) to where to support Black-owned restaurants across the nation, his entertaining content reaches a wide audience.

Kearney offers advice on how parents should engage their children with African-American culinary heritage: The native of Charleston, South Carolina, who has more than 158,000 followers on TikTok and 119,000 on Instagram, wonders, “How can you make this fun?” “You must first have a solid relationship with your child to understand what they consider to be entertaining… Make this lesson entertaining for them.”

He also suggests participating in Black Food Fridays by actively supporting restaurants and food-related companies owned by African-Americans.

“If you’re fortunate enough to have Black-owned eateries in your region, make it a point to go to that Black-owned ice cream store or Black pizza place or burger joint or soul food restaurant or even a Black-owned sushi restaurant on Fridays after school,” advises Kearney. “Make a big thing of it so that your children look forward to Fridays. Afterwards, they will begin to inform their classmates.”

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