American cuisine

Celebrating African influences in African American cuisine

Africans have helped shape the cuisine of America and the rest of the world for centuries – from slaves who were forced to cross the Atlantic and brought with them unique foods, culinary traditions and technologies, to the last African American chefs, farmers, innovators and businesses who have profoundly influenced the way we eat and think about food. The Africa Center exhibition, entitled African/American: make the table of the nation, Organized by Dr. Jessica Harrisa leading expert on the culinary culture of the African Diaspora, seeks to honor these individuals and their heritage.


In many fields, such as literature, art, business and medicine, the achievements of black people often go unrecognized. The food industry is another sector where people ignore or can ignore these contributions. This is why the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is hosting the exhibition at the Africa Center; to draw attention to the contributions that Africans and African Americans have made to American culture over the past 400 years.

Dr Uzodinma IwealaNigerian-American CEO of The Africa Center and author of beasts of no nationrecount OkAfrica there’s a lot we don’t know about the food we eat. “Most people don’t realize that the majority of the rice grown in the United States comes from Africa and that the technologies to grow it were developed by slaves who were brought to the United States and were specifically researched and reduced enslaved because of this knowledge,” he says.

The Legacy Quilt represents the people, places, and movements that have influenced American cuisine.

Photo: The Africa Center

The Legacy Quilt, a highlight of the exhibit, seeks to fill these gaps in our knowledge by acknowledging the heroes of African-American culinary culture, from slavery to the present day. A 14-foot-tall, nearly 30-foot-wide handmade tapestry comprised of 406 illustrations (printed and applied to a variety of fabrics) that depict the people, places, and movements that influenced American cuisine, The Legacy Quilt also exists online, where stories can be added by those unable to visit the exhibit in person.

One of the quilt blocks depicts Augustus Jackson, an African American and former White House cook in the 1820s, known as “the father of ice cream” for his efforts to develop new flavors and find the best means of transporting the dessert. . Another block tells the story of Nearest Green, the first African-American registered master distiller in the United States, who taught Jack Daniel how to produce whiskey and helped perfect an innovative whiskey-making technique in Tennessee.

The quilt also features current food and beverage producers, writers, like Kwame Onwuachia Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient whose work celebrates Afro-Caribbean cuisine.

“We hope more people realize and appreciate the immense contribution that people of African descent have made to the culture and economy of America and the world at large,” the leader says. Pierre Thiam, one of the advisers of the exhibition. “These recipes, which are treasures of our culture, would have been lost if not for our ancestors and their tradition of passing the recipes down from generation to generation. The farming methods and ingredients that were brought to this nation such as rice, cowpeas, black eyes and okra would be forgotten.

The connection between African and American cuisine is evident when considering the origins of many foods symbolic of American culture. “Gumbo is a famous dish in Louisiana that comes from the African continent, where it is known as gumbo soup. [in Nigeria] and soupor kanja in Senegal. Jambalaya is another traditional Louisiana meal that we know as jollof rice. There’s also hoppin’ johns, a dish of black-eyed peas and rice known in Senegal as thiebou cowpea“, says Thierre. “And that’s the beauty of food, it transcends borders, because you always crave it, and then you bring it with you when you travel from place to place.”

These influences can be found all over the world, not just in the United States. Many African cuisines are popular in countries from Mexico to Brazil to Ecuador and the Caribbean region. “There is a huge African diaspora community in Castro Alves, which is a city in Brazil, and there is a popular meal there called acarajéwhich is similar to akara in Nigeria but done a little differently,” adds Iweala.

An image of the Ebony Test Kitchen, which is featured in the exhibit.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the Ebony Test Kitchen, where the first African-American editor of a major magazine, Charlotte Lyons, tested recipes.

Photo: The Africa Center

In Afro-American, these connections in the African Diaspora are highlighted, allowing people to see the importance of African heritage and tradition, as well as how they integrate into society. The exhibit presents a history of food and drink and the many ways in which African Americans have shaped American culture, from enslaved cooks like Abby Fisher, who went on to publish the second known cookbook by a black woman to United States, to free people who became farmers, chefs, brewers, food writers, etc.

In addition to the quilt, another highlight of the exhibit is the Ebony Test Kitchen, a psychedelic kitchen designed in the 1970s, where Ebony’s editor – the first African-American editor of a great magazine – Charlotte Lyons tested recipes for the magazine. “Appointment with a dish” column. These recipes would have an indelible mark on American cuisine for decades to come.

The exhibit is a testament to the skill and innovation of African and African-American peoples who have influenced the customs of the peoples of America and the rest of the world. “There has been a constant exchange of ideas, traditions, and cultures that impacts the functioning of African and African American groups in the United States and throughout the diaspora,” Iweala says. “Our vision for this exhibit was to showcase conversation and the creativity that comes with it.”

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