When Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced The Douglass Plan it made me question why he thought naming his project to benefit African Americans after a 19th century, Antebellum figure was a good idea. The name alone demonstrated Mr. Buttigieg had not consulted any African Americans during the devising of his plan. Fredrick Douglass was an elder statesman who ultimately became a world renown advocate for the abolishment of slavery. A prolific writer and gifted orator, Douglass provided a firsthand account of the horrific realities of enslavement in the United States. In his autobiography, Douglass recounts physically defending himself against multiple White men while enslaved, including the most sadistic of masters, and ultimately escaping from enslavement. Once emancipated, Mr. Douglass was a fearless leader who did not kowtow to the patronizing admonishments of White abolitionists, so even he never cottoned to a plan created for us but not by us. Pete is assuredly not invited to the potluck.
Multiculturalism in 2020 food culture reminds me of Pete Buttigieg’s plan – a weak attempt at creating an inclusive environment which is destined to fail because the historically marginalized folks meant to benefit are not invited to the initial kitchen table convening. The current proliferation of food media show few contributions from African-Americans despite that a few generations ago the very people frequently relied upon to create the highest quality food were of African descent. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben did not become popular brands out of a vacuum. Stereotypes of happy, subservient Black culinary conjurers harken back to slavery. Widely acclaimed, The Jemima Code uncovered the written history of Black cooks, demonstrating that from the Reconstruction era until the 1960’s, from Newport to the White House to Havana, descendants of slaves were the top chefs. “The professional cooks of the country were Negroes and the national cookery came from them,” observed American historian Gaillard Hunt (1914).
The Mediterranean diet is arguably not the healthiest approach to eating in the world, nor is kale the healthiest green; matcha is not the kobe beef of teas, White women are not the arbiters of what equals healthy eating and White men do not make the best chefs. Pasta is actually Chinese in origin, tomatoes Peruvian, olives originated in Africa and lemons, India. One could reasonably believe sugar originated in Europe, the popularity of French pastries and Swiss chocolate withstanding, opposed to its’ native Polynesia. The melting pot may be a more apt metaphor for food culture as opposed to racial inclusion in the United States, but as chefs have shape shifted into their newfound celebrity status, cultural appropriation has also become mainstream. Barbecue and chocolate both came out of Africa, but like just rock-n-roll, no one knows it. Well respected Chef Jacques Pepin notes how when he moved to New York City from France in the 1960’s, cooks did not enjoy an elevated stature in society because, outside of ethnic restaurants, most chefs were African American. The people who get attention for preparing food is not accidental. When the American cook was finally asked to come out of the kitchen, her gender and race markedly changed. Our palates are political.
Sustainable eating is a trend; but when I observe the greens have been removed from the turnips at the Farmers’ Market, I realize 21st century foodies could learn something from people like me. Growing up in an African-American farming community my mother notes that the cows were grass-fed and chickens free range well before the phrases became coined. Her family raised fruits, vegetables, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs and horses. Dependent upon cows for commodities like milk, butter, and buttermilk, consumption of beef, chicken or other meat outside of salt pork or ham hocks was a rarity. “Our diet was primarily vegetarian,” she says. Activist Dick Gregory confirmed the same when discussing his Southern upbringing in the 2012 documentary Soul Food Junkies. My Grandpa’s favorite late night snack was a sweet potato, baked to caramelized perfection nestled among fireplace coals, the same cooking method described by Mr. Charlie Davenport, a former enslaved gentleman, in Slave Narratives Mississippi: The Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-38. My grandparent’s elderberries, blackberries, peaches, plums, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and okra were harvested during the summer and canned for winter. Roasted or brine boiled peanuts, pecans and walnuts were their potato chips. Mr. Davenport noted that most enslaved people were allowed a plot to garden but others were provided virtually no food to eat at all. Mr. Douglass too wrote about often having very little food to eat. With the utmost reverence, it is to the wisdom and memories of my beloved ancestors I dedicate my efforts.
Red Beans and Tri-Color Quinoa
- 1 lb. (16 0z.) Organic Red Beans
- 12 Cups Water
- 3 Cloves of minced Garlic
- 1 Tbs. minced Organic Celery
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- 2 Tbs. Better Than Bouillon Reduced Sodium Organic Roasted Chicken Base or Vegetarian Beef Stock
- 1 tsp. Thyme
- 1/2 tsp. Cumin
- 1/2 tsp. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. Oregano
- 1/4 tsp. Rosemary
- 3 Dashes of Colgin All Natural Hickory or Mesquite Liquid Smoke
- Dash of Cayenne Pepper (Optional)
Place uncooked beans in a colander and rinse under cold water ensuring any rocks or debris are removed. Place rinsed beans in a large pot and cover with 6 cups of water overnight. Do not cover the pot with the top. In the morning the beans will have soaked up much of the water. Add 6 additional cups of water to the beans and all the seasonings. Substitute the vegetarian stock if you seek to make the dish vegan. Turn the pot up to high carefully making sure the pot does not boil over. Once the beans boil, turn the heat down to medium low and cook for approximately 3 1/2 hours or until the beans are soft and a soup like, gravy has formed. Serves 6 to 8 people. The quinoa is cooked separately.
- 2 Cups Water
- 1 Cup Tri-Color Quinoa
- 1 Tbs. Olive Oil
- 1 Large Clove of minced Garlic
- 1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Low Sodium Organic Roasted Chicken Base or Vegetarian Beef Stock (Vegan)
- 1 tsp. Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt
- 1/2 tsp. Jamaican Curry Seasoning
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized sauce pan and turn the heat on high. Once the pot begins to boil, turn the heat down to low and stir periodically. Once all the water evaporates, the quinoa is ready. It usually takes 20 minutes. Serves 6 people.
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