Hey y’all! My name is Yvette and welcome to
my channel. Today I’m going to be doing a book review of The Cooking Gene: A
Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by
Michael [W] Twitty. Michael W Twitty is a gay, Jewish, African-American man and a
culinary historian. And this is a nonfiction book about him exploring his
identity and his history through food and more specifically, southern cuisine.
In the author’s own words, this book is about “…finding and honoring the soul of
his peoples by looking deep within his past and people’s history”. This book is
part memoir, part history textbook, and part deep dive into genealogy. Usually I
try to structure my book reviews and talk about different aspects of a book
but with this one, all the different aspects are so intertwined that I feel
like I can’t talk about something without talking about something else at
the same time, so I’m just gonna go for it and talk and then at the end I’ll
talk about what this book meant to me. Because I really loved this book and it
touched me more than I thought a nonfiction book about cooking could. And
that’s because this book is about so much more than just cooking. So this book
was a result of the Southern Discomfort Tour which was something that Twitty did
where he toured the southern states of the US hoping to learn more about the
development of Southern cuisine and its history. And in particular, he was
interested in visiting places where his ancestors were enslaved and places of
cultural memory related to slavery. There’s this narrative that southern
cooking and its history and development can be credited to white people. From the
original southern cook books that were written by white women with recipes
taught to them by their slaves to current date TV personalities like Paula
Dean, it’s a very pervasive and inaccurate idea and one that this book
totally dismantles. A lot of what we think of as traditional southern cooking
is crops brought over from Africa, planted and cultivated by slaves and
then cooked by those same slaves with all the influences and experiences that
they had cooking food back home. It is history and culture on a plate and for
Twitty, who because of the nature of slavery, doesn’t really know where he’s
come from. It’s a way for him to connect to his past. He found it in the rice and
okra that were brought over from West Africa, along with the people who knew
how to grow it, as well as in the ways that enslaved people were able to survive
on the inadequate food they were given. And the way those food practices evolved
and were passed down all that, as well as in the ways that enslaved people
prepared these grand southern feasts for their masters. However, looking into the
past in general was just the first step and the next step was Twitty looking into
his family’s past specifically. And talking more about that, I’m [going to] segue a
bit more into the genealogy and memoir aspects of this book. Twitty talks about, in his book, about how for a lot of people genealogy is a hobby, but for
African-Americans, it’s a reclamation. Because when your
ancestors are dehumanized to the point where they aren’t given names and when
people are traded across state lines with poor record-keeping and when
children are separated from their parents too young to even remember their
parents names, it becomes really hard to trace your family line and find out
where you ultimately came from. But Twitty attempts to do just that with
some help from some genealogists with his DNA and hard document research. And
these parts of the book can get pretty tedious because it’s all about places
and people and dates and listing things off, but I think it’s worth it to get
through all of that because a lot of the genealogical work can get very personal
and very painful and Twitty doesn’t shy away from that. He sees who in his ancestry
was sold off and separated and he sees women that were raped by their
slaveholders to give birth to children that eventually led to him. He confronts
a lot of the ugly and difficult things that come along with slavery in order to
get the most complete picture of where he comes from. He visits the graves of
his ancestors, both the enslaved and the slaveholders, and he visits the main
ports of the transatlantic slave trade that his ancestors likely came through,
and also auction blocks and warehouses where they were held before they went up
for sale. And he really goes into the absolute horror that was the auction
block and it can be a lot. So how does this connect to food. Well food is never
just food. It’s a cornerstone of culture and in learning more about his ancestors
and the way that they lived, and they cooked, it was a way for Twitty to
remember and honor his ancestors and the traditions that they passed down to him.
Twitty further goes into how there is memory and food and how in learning how to cook
like his ancestors did, he is reclaiming a past and a culture that was stolen
from him generation after generation. And in that way, learning is him healing from
generational trauma. There’s this quote in the books that I thought really
embodied this idea and I jotted it down while listening to the audiobook, so I’m
not a hundred percent sure it’s word-for-word correct but I really liked
it and I’m gonna read it. “History is the missing piece. Once you begin to embrace
their own heritage and culture and you interweave it with what you’re doing it
turns into a sole completion journey of finally I am home. I’m coming back to
Africa. Coming back to love. Coming back home and most of all, coming back to a
place of healing.” And on a personal note, it was that idea that really got to me
and really made me start wanting to cook from my own roots, which is really weird
because I don’t really cook. But I am of indigenous descent. I am descended from
the Yaqui on my maternal side of the family, and I just want to make it clear
that I’m not claiming indigenous identity. That is not mine to claim, but
that is part of my ancestry that I don’t really know much about and that I’m
disconnected from. But the way Twitty was able to find this great sense of self by
looking at where he came from and everything that went along with that and
honoring his roots and maybe even healing a little bit from all the pain
that was inflicted on his family – it was really really inspiring. Long story short,
I’m gonna steal a cookbook for my sister. It’s Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based
Mexican American Recipes for Health and Healing. After reading the Cooking Gene, I remember that my sister got this, so I’ve
commandeered it and I’ve flipped through it, and hopefully soon I’ll try a couple
recipes. So yeah, I really like this book. If you’ve read it, come talk to me in the
comments below about what you thought about it. I hope you enjoyed this video,
thank you for watching, and I’ll see you next time.