How Black Folks Shaped America’s Culinary Identity

Black people are foundational to the culinary identity of the United States. This is the thesis of African/American: Making the Nation’s Table, a virtual exhibit from the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). With text, historic artifacts, and a series of virtual events, the MOFAD exhibit traces this influence throughout all spheres of our food system: from agriculture and distilling, to the movements that spread food traditions across the country, to the individual chefs, cookbook authors, and inventors who have had an undeniable impact on the way we eat.

The scope of these contributions is immense, and provides ample inspiration for the stories you’ll find here — stories that outline the myriad ways Black people, despite their expertise and innovations in the food space, have had to fight for recognition and support. Among these, there are stories that question the erasure of Black people from the discourse around some of its most celebrated food and drink, as with James Bennett II’s piece on why it’s “disingenuous, factually incorrect, and socially irresponsible to peddle that lily-white narrative” of craft beer, along with stories that celebrate the undersung pioneers of the African-American culinary canon. “Black people were embedded in every aspect of society in this country. We’ve always been there,” says Osayi Endolyn in a discussion of the first African-American cookbook author, Malinda Russell, “but stories like Malinda’s give us permission to really lock into that even more.”

And as we hear these stories, our perception of American cuisine can evolve. The notion that African Americans are responsible for Southern food, which in itself is perhaps the most American food, is now well established to the point of oversimplification — but taken in sum, the stories contained here and within the MOFAD exhibit should convince anyone that Black folks made the nation’s table, full stop. So, as Dr. Jessica B. Harris, the lead curator of the exhibit, writes in the following introduction:

Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cookbook offers more than culinary advice. It also gives clear attribution to figures who are typically
erased or lost to history.

Racial discrimination has long contributed to the steady decline of Black-owned farms in America, but a movement to grow those numbers may soon be bolstered by real support

With pop-ups like Honeysuckle, Black Feast, and the Vegan Hood Chefs, Black innovators engage
with food for a greater purpose

The overwhelmingly white image of
beer culture erases a much longer,
far-reaching narrative of Black brewing

Black folks creating their own support systems
are continuing a longstanding practice
in their communities

Editorial lead: Monica Burton
Creative director: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Editors: Erin DeJesus, Rebecca Flint Marx
Contributors: James Bennett II, Osayi Endolyn, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, Nadra Nittle, Nicole Rufus, Jaya Saxena, Elazar Sontag, Toni Tipton-Martin
Photographers: Chelsea Kigano, Michelle K. Min, Neal Santos
Copy editor: Emma Alpern
Fact checkers: Olivia Exstrum, Kelsey Lannin, Dawn Mobley
Engagement: Esra Erol, Milly McGuinness
Project manager: Ellie Krupnick
Special thanks to Matt Buchanan; Amanda Kludt; Jesse Sparks; Jenny G. Zhang; the MOFAD exhibition team: Catherine Piccoli, Jean Nihoul, Alexis Fleming, Myriah Towner, Shuan Carmichael-Ramos, Dave Arnold, Peter Kim

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