The man in the middle is a food writer named Michael Twitty. He writes a blog called Afroculinaria. I just ran into it tonight and I’m just a few posts in, but I am hooked on it. Here’s a little bit of how he describes himself and his writing:
Afroculinaria is a food blog authored by Michael W. Twitty, (Twitter: @Koshersoul /Instagram:@thecookinggene/Michael W. Twitty on Facebook), a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian , and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. Michael is a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests include food culture, food history, Jewish cultural issues, African American history and cultu ral politics. Afroculinaria will highlight and address food’s critical role in the development and definition of African American civilization and the politics of consumption and cultural ownership that surround it.
That’s a lot to take in. He’s a lot to take in. A Jewish faith practicing black man with an encyclopedic knowledge of African derived cuisine who also happens to be gay is certainly one of god’s more interesting assemblages. The best part from my perspective is he can write. A lot of what passes for writing in the food world is some real deal bullshit, but this dude has talent and I’m going to read this blog regularly until his book comes out and I can get a real serving.
I ran across his writing because I was looking up something about Sean Brock. I need to dig in more, but it seems like there was some sort of dust up between the two of them. It kicked off in this article on Eater. Twitty wrote this piece about it as a response.
In Charleston, there’s some disagreement over the role of white chefs in popularizing Gullah cuisine (which I had never even heard of before; which is not surprising since there’s all kinds of shit I’ve never heard of before).
I generally have sympathy for both sides of the conversation about appropriation. I think you need to give the origin of whatever art you’re riffing on the deserved props and due respect, but you also don’t have to act ashamed or apologize for really loving something. I think a lot of people are over this kind of conversational pathway because it’s often being had by some high-profile-low-vibrational click-baiters who draw armies of warring digital mouth breathers out to watch the fireworks. It appears that at least on this occasion, the participants are intelligent and acting on some level of good faith.
As usual, any blame for this conversation going askew is to be found in the comment section of the article. It’s definitely not too awful in this case, but it appears like comments were purged and the comment section was locked down. There’s no immediate way for me to tell coming in this late.
A spot in the article where I think I begin to disagree with Twitty is where he says, “You mean to tell me that there’s Carolina gold rice that’s $12, $15 a bag, [which means] the average black child who lives in North Charleston can’t afford to eat Carolina gold rice? It’s the same rice their ancestors were brought to Charleston to grow.” Now we all have sympathy for poor kids not being able to afford things, but I know farmers who grow this kind of boutique heirloom food and it’s not an easy route. The libertarian in me defends the idea that they deserve to get the price the market bears.
However, like so many things, black people made this stuff what it is. My thoughts could be totally fucked on this, but the idea of corny ass “influencer marketing” keeps feeling relevant here. Stick with me for a minute while I flop through this.
If a yoga mat company is willing to pay a hot girl to make their product popular, doesn’t that indicate some justification for somehow supporting the culture that made the food popular if you come from outside it? Figuring out how that would work is well beyond my powers, but it’s worth thinking on.
I’ve always liked Sean Brock on TV and I got a chance to eat some charcuterie he made thanks to the good people at Clove and Hoof, and I can say without reservation, it’s one of the top five salted meats I’ve ever had. I hope the more I explore, I don’t end up liking either of these dudes less.
But ultimately, you don’t always have to like someone to appreciate what they can do, so I urge you to make time for this soulful, nice Jewish boy. He’s got a way with words and a point of view I haven’t seen before.