HM - May 2019 - Book Review
What Have You Been Reading?
Book Review: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
By Michael W. Twitty
Reviewed by Stacey Kerr, Central Michigan University
Teachers of history may find The Cooking Gene to be an asset in their resource library. Twitty’s detailed historical accounts and analyses have the potential to help students decode present-day intercultural relationships by examining the origin stories of something as banal as a biscuit. These new ideas and novel examples could be infused into already existing lessons, but older students may even benefit from reading individual chapters or excerpts to engage with relevant content as well as the practices of historical research. This is because Twitty, a trained historiographer, not only uses The Cooking Gene to educate readers on the connections between history, identity, and Southern food, but he also provides insight into his use of historical research methods for the writing of this book - genealogical testing, archival and document analysis, oral history interpretation, site visitation, and artifact examination.
It is important to note, however, that Twitty’s book is just the tipping point for educators. His frequently updated blog, Afroculinaria, provides a wealth of material for the creative history teacher. There are maps related to slavery, food production, and demography, a copy of his viral letter to celebrity chef, Paula Deen, after her public usage of racial slurs, and a plethora of other short musings that could help students recognize the presence of history right in the things they eat every day. Powerful history instruction occurs when students are prompted to recognize how academic concepts are embedded in their everyday lives, and food, as presented by Twitty, is the perfect avenue for teachers to access and use. In The Cooking Gene, we see how our histories, geographies, and economies are deeply connected to major events in the past, but also what we pull together in our kitchens and put in our mouths.
Stacey Kerr is Assistant Professor of Geography at Central Michigan University