The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one o...

Title:The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0062379283
Number of Pages:464 pages

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South Reviews

  • Claire

    Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale.

    Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slav

    Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale.

    Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slavery. He calls it as it is- a generational human tragedy of forced migration, rape, and systematic debasement of a people. Twitty most personally brings this point home when he shares his genome study which proves multiple European men as fathers in his family. This discovery sent him on travels through northern Europe to trace ethno culinary roots there to augment his southern and African oral histories.

    There are many accounts of slave history in America, this one is especially poignant and relays the grief of forcibly displaced peoples in a way that resonates deeply while honoring the long lasting and pervasive contributions of the African diaspora to American culture from the 17th century to the present.

  • BookTrib Community

    The Cooking Gene goes on our must read list - no wonder this book is Number 1 on Amazon releases right now. Read our full review here!

  • Gail

    I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.

    My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my

    I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.

    My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my mother and her relatives ate always seemed weird, if not distasteful (though as an adult, I've grown to love some of it). I had no idea how much African food influenced what came to be called Southern cooking. We have a blended cuisine but only now are beginning to acknowledge the overwhelming contribution that enslaved people made to the food that was grown and eaten in a large part of America. Twitty's book spurs a desire to know more (and to follow his blog).

    For anyone interested in American history and how food and agriculture influence who we are (or think we are), this is an essential read. The description of the African American experience from the time of the Middle Passage and beyond, is a critical time to understand as well. I had little knowledge of how much the slave trade was a domestic enterprise, not just one of forced migration and sale from Africa itself.

    Now for my criticisms, which are the source of my complicated feelings about the book. Mr. Twitty is a skilled historian but the book felts disorganized and disjointed to me. I had a hard time making the transition from chapter to chapter because the internal logic of the book's structure escaped me. He has a vast family tree but it only appears on an early page of the book (which is unreadable in the electronic edition, which is what I had from my library). Trying to constantly re-orient myself was difficult. The chapters would have benefitted from including small chunks of that tree to help better understand the family context in a given chapter. There are no helps with pronunciation either, which caused me to skip some descriptive information (maybe an audio book would help here); the book is loaded with African names of foods, countries, tribes, people, and the like. That's necessary but makes for a tough read at times.

    There are photos in the book (all of them at the end of the e-book) but they are consolidated in one place and not even referenced within the chapters. It would have been much more helpful to have them associated with the chapters and events he describes. The book was so text heavy that it made for a very long read at times. When you are talking about food, historical places, and the like, visual guides are very helpful and would have engaged me more. As another reviewer noted, there isn't a recipe index either. While there are not a lot of them, many are quite interesting and ones that someone today might want to cook or adapt.

    Mr. Twitty himself is a fascinating man, a black, gay, Jewish American who has a complicated personal history. His next book is supposed to tackle his life as a Jew. Being Jewish, I'm quite anxious to hear that part of his story. Recommend with the caveat that you must be prepared for chapters that sometimes feel like completely separate essays rather than part of a coherent narrative.

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