The Cooking Gene
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

The Cooking Gene Details

TitleThe Cooking Gene
Author
ReleaseAug 1st, 2017
PublisherAmistad
ISBN-139780062379283
Rating
GenreFood and Drink, Food, Nonfiction, History, Autobiography, Memoir, Cookbooks, Cooking, Cultural, African American

The Cooking Gene Review

  • Petra X
    January 1, 1970
    10 Star book! 20 even. Review to come if I can think of how to write it to do this phenomenal book and author justice. _______Notes on reading the book: This book is so beautifully written it wouldn't matter what the subject is. Or at least that's the view from the top of the book. The author is gay, black, white, Jewish and a historian and a writer, an amazing writer. With all that background, I'm hoping for some interesting angles in the writing.
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  • Brown Girl Reading
    January 1, 1970
    My rating for this book is actually 3,5 stars. The Cooking Gene was quite the challenge for me and for the ladies I buddy read it with. The Cooking Gene is an exploration of African-American culinary history in the south, slavery, and genealogy. I wasn't read for the way the book was laid out. I was expecting something a bit more linear than what I got, which was a jumpy, hard to stay on tract reading project. There were some key elements missing to make the reading experience better - maps, glo My rating for this book is actually 3,5 stars. The Cooking Gene was quite the challenge for me and for the ladies I buddy read it with. The Cooking Gene is an exploration of African-American culinary history in the south, slavery, and genealogy. I wasn't read for the way the book was laid out. I was expecting something a bit more linear than what I got, which was a jumpy, hard to stay on tract reading project. There were some key elements missing to make the reading experience better - maps, glossary, index, etc. It was as if Amistad had forgotten that The Cooking Gene was a non-fiction novel with many things to document. Despite all of this, there were many moments of brilliance, crucial information being relayed about slavery and genealogy, memories from my grandmother being brought to mind, and reminders that race in America needs to be discussed more openly and taught more accurately at school. So do I recommend it? Yes I do but just be ready to take your time and your notes while reading. Don't be surprised if it takes you 2 months to read. It's worth it in the end.
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  • Alexandra
    January 1, 1970
    I heard Michael Twitty speak on a panel a few years ago, at an event on interpreting African-American history today. Twitty, a gay black Jewish man who passionately talked about culinary history, sparked my interest. He is well known for cooking meals on plantations in the American South using only the cookware and food that was available to slaves. I was thrilled to find out that he would be publishing a book, and eagerly awaited its publication. I was not disappointed."The Cooking Gene" is a m I heard Michael Twitty speak on a panel a few years ago, at an event on interpreting African-American history today. Twitty, a gay black Jewish man who passionately talked about culinary history, sparked my interest. He is well known for cooking meals on plantations in the American South using only the cookware and food that was available to slaves. I was thrilled to find out that he would be publishing a book, and eagerly awaited its publication. I was not disappointed."The Cooking Gene" is a mix of genres. It's a culinary history of Southern cooking and African cooking. It's a regional history of Southern America. It's a memoir. It's a narrative of the lives of Twitty's enslaved ancestors. It's a discussion of how to make Southern cooking healthier. Twitty imparts an incredible amount of detail, on everything from the history of cotton, to where slaves usually entered America and were sent to the auction block, to how to make ashcake. Written in an engaging style that is very much in Twitty's voice (which I'm somewhat familiar with, having heard him speak and enjoyed his tweets at @KosherSoul), the book is both educational and heartfelt. Twitty's pain of being the descendent of slaves, of continuing to face discrimination, makes this a very emotional read.As Twitty shows, learning about his ancestors was an incredibly difficult journey. He and partners and consultants spent many long hours reading through plantation and archival documents to try to find any trace of his family. He was successful in learning more about his ancestors, but knowledge brings both enlightenment and pain. He also used genetic tests like 23 and Me to learn more about his ancestry.One of Twitty's great contributions is to emphasize the relationship between Southern whites and Southern blacks, both genetically and culinarily. As Twitty learns, he has a number of European roots in family tree - mostly slaveowners who forced themselves on their slaves. His ancestry is not unusual, but many whites don't know or refuse to acknowledge (i.e., racism) that many African-Americans are literally their cousins. Twitty also shows how Southern cooking is really a product of African-American cooking. Black slaves who worked as cooks in America and the Caribbean are responsible for combining African and European (as well as Asian and Native American) cooking styles. The Southern cooking Americans know and love today was not developed by whites but by black slaves. Twitty and others are working hard to give the proper credit for creating Southern cooking to the slaves who invented it.As Twitty follows each ancestor through his or her life as a slave, he provides an overview of the region in which his family member was enslaved. This includes discussing the crops grown by the slaves, the food served to slaveowners, and the food eaten by slaves. In this way, Twitty identifies fascinating differences among the different regions and how these differences impacted the food and nutrition of the region. For example, slaves in the Deep South cotton-growing areas had the worst nutrition because few other crops were grown, and fish and game were hard to come by compared to in Virginia and other more lush areas. As if reading about the history of Southern cooking was not enough to get your mouth watering, Twitty also includes a variety of delicious-sounding recipes. I look forward to making his sweet potato pie and other staples of Southern cooking.I highly recommend this unique book. "The Cooking Gene" is a deeply personal account of the trauma of knowing that your ancestors were horribly treated slaves, as well as an enormously educational discussion of the important history of Southern and African-American cooking.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    I have been wanting to read this book for quite a while, and the summer Reading Envy Picnic challenge helped push me into it. "This taste in my mouth is the flavor of black folks taking their country back."Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian who has taken a deep look at southern cuisine through many lenses, but always coming back to his identity as a black (but not only black), gay, Jewish man. He is known to some because of a piece he wrote a few years ago, An Open Letter to Paula Deen, b I have been wanting to read this book for quite a while, and the summer Reading Envy Picnic challenge helped push me into it. "This taste in my mouth is the flavor of black folks taking their country back."Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian who has taken a deep look at southern cuisine through many lenses, but always coming back to his identity as a black (but not only black), gay, Jewish man. He is known to some because of a piece he wrote a few years ago, An Open Letter to Paula Deen, but I think I first heard about him when this book came out.This book takes on a lot, arguably too much, but where do you draw the lines when you talk about heritage? It isn't just one thing, it's DNA, it's enslavement, it's appropriation, it's the foods and techniques themselves, it's the history and the various versions of that history, it's timing and climate and oral tradition. At times, I was overwhelmed as a reader. Other times, I was walking paths I'd already been down, sometimes in this book (the writing is a bit circular/repetitive) and sometimes in other books (only one example: Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire.) Not only does Twitty try to provide a comprehensive overview, he refers to other scholars whose works I now want to read. The importance of the traditions of people enslaved on southern cuisine is crucial. The current role of people of color on cuisine is crucial. Twitty is providing an important education when he shares what he has learned in exploring his own identity. I suspect one of the roles he is playing that may be most important is in teaching chefs about their own cuisine! But we should all understand it to some extent, especially those of us living in the south. I learned more about slavery from this book than I ever did in school. I've walked the beach on Sullivan's Island without ever understanding the pain memory that place must have. This book could be an entire college class. An entire college degree, really.Two quotes, one from the intro and one from near the end that sum up the heart of this book to me (although as I said, the topics are widespread):"The Old South is a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are, to tell others who they are, and to tell stories about where they’ve been.""The real history is not in the food, it’s in the people."
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  • Monica **can't read fast enough**
    January 1, 1970
    Unfortunately, The Cooking Gene was a bust for me. I think that I was expecting a reading experience from Twitty that he wasn't really promising in the synopsis. I may have read more into what the book would be about than the premise really is. I thought that I was going to get a book that pretty thoroughly explored the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community. How food played and still plays a part in how many of us show affection and appreciation for one another th Unfortunately, The Cooking Gene was a bust for me. I think that I was expecting a reading experience from Twitty that he wasn't really promising in the synopsis. I may have read more into what the book would be about than the premise really is. I thought that I was going to get a book that pretty thoroughly explored the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community. How food played and still plays a part in how many of us show affection and appreciation for one another through food. How food builds and strengthens bonds and acts as a means to define regional identity. However, that isn't what Twitty really explores. I thought that he would dive into the history of African American people turning the scraps of animals and the left overs from slave owners into meals that had to sustain enslaved people. That the fact that people were able to turn extremely limited ingredients and supplies into meals and foods that eventually defined southern cooking would be explored more thoroughly. Twitty didn't exactly deliver that either. I was also hoping that Twitty would explore food identity and relationships through a male perspective. Maybe take a look at how African American men viewed their influence on food through BBQ and grilling. Many of the best grill masters are African American men and it would have been very interesting to hear some of their stories even if they weren't from members of Twitty's own family. In my family, the grill was definitely male territory, where they gathered around, talked, maybe indulged in a drink or two, and without a doubt told tall tales to each other. That aspect of African American culinary tradition would have been a great subject to explore. However, Twitty didn't really explore that either. I think that all of my disappointments in what I didn't get in The Cooking Gene would have been minimized if what Twitty did deliver was well developed and laid out where I could follow his explorations clearly. Twitty's writing is inconsistent and jumpy. He would talk about finding his ancestry and visiting places that were related to him one moment and the next expound on the history of regional crops. By the end Twitty goes to Europe and skims over some information there, but by that time I had pretty much lost interest and just needed to finish the book. This book started off strong, but in the end it just wasn't a winner for me. The best review that I have seen for The Cooking Gene is from Leslie at Folklore & Literacy. (http://folkloreandliteracy.com/2017/1...) If you aren't familiar with her, check out this review and I promise that you'll be wowed. She's extraordinary!Where you can find me:•(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)•Twitter: @MonlatReaderInstagram: @readermonicaFacebook: Monica Reeds Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase
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  • Gabriella
    January 1, 1970
    I think it’s most fitting to begin at this book’s end: “It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten.” In The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty helps us rediscover a vast and influential culinary tradition that black Americans have created throughout our time on this continent. Some people are sangers, not singers. Some people cook, and others, like my father says, can burn: Twitty is clearly in the latter group. As someone who only burns water (but washes a mean dish), I wasn’t sure I think it’s most fitting to begin at this book’s end: “It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten.” In The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty helps us rediscover a vast and influential culinary tradition that black Americans have created throughout our time on this continent. Some people are sangers, not singers. Some people cook, and others, like my father says, can burn: Twitty is clearly in the latter group. As someone who only burns water (but washes a mean dish), I wasn’t sure I’d be able to enjoy his food writing as much as his pieces about black Southern migration history. However, he finds engaging anecdotes that weave the two together. I gained a blow-by-blow appreciation for the culinary and agricultural labor performed by enslaved black southerners and their descendants, one I’m not sure I would’ve received if he discussed ancestry and food separately. I never before had a tangible sense of what the production of this culinary legacy required on day-to-day basis, and I’m excited to see Twitty recreate some of this work in March.As a younger Southerner whose family is spread between the Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas, I hadn’t ever heard of a lot of these things. I’m not sure if this was my own ignorance, or that of a community of food writers, who mostly consider Southern and black cuisine to be mutually exclusive. Either way, I’m excited to use this book as a starting point to learn more about the food we eat from my relatives (whenever it is that I can make it home.) I think many of these concepts and traditions are lost to those of us who don’t take the time to sit down and speak with our elders, as Twitty so dutifully has.I do have, regrettably, some problems with this book. Twitty’s knowledge is here, but his personal life often isn’t, and sometimes the former is overwhelming. Often times, I found myself struggling to keep up with his denser chapters, and confused about how we’d gotten from the Gullah culture to the Chesapeake. I think he is the connective thread between these topics, but I learned more about his long-gone relatives than the ones he knew and learned from directly. I wanted much more of his personal connections to all these things—his queerness, his religion, the fact that he was ESTRANGED FROM HIS FATHER FOR TEN YEARS and barely mentions it save a few pages. There was just sooooo much information packed into this book, and too few personal narratives to help the medicine go down. The Cooking Gene was a great conclusion to my Black History Month challenge, and I’d really encourage y’all to pick it up if you’re at all interested in black Southern culture, food writing, and/or genealogy. However, take your time getting through this one, and maybe read a nice memoir along with it.
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  • Kelly
    January 1, 1970
    I've been following Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria, ever since I heard an interview with him on local Washington, DC radio a few years ago. He is a really interesting guy--and just reading his recipes will make you hungry!A basic premise of the book is that black Americans need to "reclaim" southern cuisine. I don't really have a dog in that fight (which seems to be mostly in culinary circles anyway), I just like to eat the food! I'm white, but I've always assumed that Southern food belonged to ev I've been following Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria, ever since I heard an interview with him on local Washington, DC radio a few years ago. He is a really interesting guy--and just reading his recipes will make you hungry!A basic premise of the book is that black Americans need to "reclaim" southern cuisine. I don't really have a dog in that fight (which seems to be mostly in culinary circles anyway), I just like to eat the food! I'm white, but I've always assumed that Southern food belonged to everyone, and that some of it (okra, yams, peanuts, etc.) must be west African in origin. I've also lived in northern Europe for several years, so I have a sense for what "white" cuisine looks like without African influence. It turns out that many of the foods I craved the most while living there were Southern of African origin: beans, greens, sweet potatoes, skillet cornbread, and so on. The Southern foods that I do not particularly love: coleslaw, potato salad, pickled vegetables, etc. were right there in northern Europe where I was no more excited to see them than I was back home. You might well see all the items listed above on the table at any Thanksgiving in the south. It is interesting to think of Southern cuisine as essentially a combination of German and Ghanaian! I learned a lot of great detail from this book about specific foods, where they came from in Africa, how they were used there, and how we adopted African names for foods without even realizing it. Twitty makes a convincing case that Africa not only influenced Southern food, but is the foundation for it. It is pretty fascinating stuff that I'm going to be keeping in mind as I shop and cook from now on. In fact, I'll be looking for more culinary history books to read. I have a new hobby. :)Twitty creatively uses his family history (and he must have one heck of a genealogist working for him, by the way) to trace the progress of foodways across the South. He explains how regional differences in cuisine evolved from the progression of the slave trade over time--enslaved people from different tribal groups arrived at different times and in different places. He also explains how when the population and ever-more-exploitative slavery moved from the coastlines and mountains into the cotton belt, many of the healthier components of Southern food (fish, rice, a variety of fruits and vegetables) were lost, and cheaper forms of protein and energy (pork, cornmeal, molasses) were substituted, leading to the health problems that persist today among both black and white southerners. Twitty believes that "reclaiming" the cuisine means in part going back to its earlier, healthier forms. Listen up Southerners, he has a good point.This is a very personal book by a uniquely interesting person. It does ramble a bit, and the author repeats himself on occasion. The narrative bounces back and forth between linear storytelling and a more stream-of-consciousness style. But sit back and enjoy the ride--it's well worth it in the end.
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  • Leslie Reese
    January 1, 1970
    "My mouth had been watering to read Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South ever since I learned about it from reading Twitty’s blog, Afroculinaria, where he often writes about the intersections between history, racial politics, social justice, and food. The idea of Twitty, a black male culinary authority – who also identifies as Jewish and gay – investigating and writing about “African American History in the Old South” had me an "My mouth had been watering to read Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South ever since I learned about it from reading Twitty’s blog, Afroculinaria, where he often writes about the intersections between history, racial politics, social justice, and food. The idea of Twitty, a black male culinary authority – who also identifies as Jewish and gay – investigating and writing about “African American History in the Old South” had me anticipating what television foodies call “so much depth of flavor!” I hoped also to learn more about the roots of his work as a culinary historian and living history interpreter."Read more and enjoy photographs in "Memories Evoked While Reading The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty," on my blog: http://folkloreandliteracy.com/2017/1...
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  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    This is a troubling book is many ways. Needless to say the subject of slavery itself is a difficult one. While Twitty frames his entire book in terms of himself and his family/ancestors, it's not hard to extrapolate to the larger picture. If you didn't already know how brutal/inhumane/unacceptable/etc. slavery was, there's enough here to drive it home for you. But of course the focus is supposed to be African American culinary history and I have a hard time seeing how this book does justice to t This is a troubling book is many ways. Needless to say the subject of slavery itself is a difficult one. While Twitty frames his entire book in terms of himself and his family/ancestors, it's not hard to extrapolate to the larger picture. If you didn't already know how brutal/inhumane/unacceptable/etc. slavery was, there's enough here to drive it home for you. But of course the focus is supposed to be African American culinary history and I have a hard time seeing how this book does justice to that. There are 15 scattered recipes, some family "round the table" types of stories, and tons of lists of what would have been grown, available, or prepared at any given time or place, but there is very little by way of explanation of how these items were prepared. With the exception of some discussion of Cajun/Creole, there is even less discussion on the specifics on the blending of the European, Caribbean, Hispanic, and African culinary traditions except to mention (repeatedly) that they did, indeed, blend. Perhaps this is on me - I had assumed this book would contain information on the HOW of cooking - what utensils were used? How did they deal with heat sources? Keeping items chilled? Were cooks creating product as well as actual cooking (like corn meal., for example. Or flour.) How many loaves of bread were cooked a day? What kind were they? You get the idea. What this book does do is give a very detailed account of Twitty's genealogical searches - early on, there are 20 pages just detailing his various DNA reports, and a lot of connecting the dots throughout the book. We follow some of his leads to see where folks came from and how that matches Twitty's family stories, records, and how Twitty "feels" about it. Which is the most troubling issue of all. There are several disclaimers that his experts did not provide his interpretation and in the author's note Twitty states, "The majority of the conclusions drawn from the data collected by her [his genealogist], my own searching, or my uncle's previous research, are mine. I'd like to preemptively state that this is much more an issue of checking feelings than facts." What?!? First of all, preemptively stating it would have been page 2, not page 418. Secondly, now I call into question whether any of the roads I've followed him down are even on the map, let alone in the right direction. Now in Twitty's defense maybe he doesn't mean it the way it sounds (and I sure hope that's the case.) There are quite a few instances of convoluted writing, not to mention rather a lot of tangents. Of course this makes it difficult to read at times but it does also call into question how well-thought out the premise is (and how closely his editor was really reading.) I also got pretty hot on p. 314 when after so many pages promoting the idea of sharing slave history, contributions, and cuisine Twitty dares to mention that he can't share a spice mix with us because it is proprietary. I don't begrudge anyone holding intellectual property or making money on it, but talk about the wrong place to mention it! Honestly I should have trusted my wariness when one of the first stories Twitty tells us is about his Dad stopping by the side of the road and handing Twitty a jar so he can go pee. Obviously this is Twitty's story so I won't challenge it too much but who takes a jar into the woods to pee? You just pee in the woods, right? Like, what are you going to do with a jar of pee if the point is that you can't even stop at a bathroom? Turns out my difficulty believing that vignette might just as well relate to the entire book. Long story short, this is another case of fascinating premise, unreliable reporting, and so-so follow-through.
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  • Gail
    January 1, 1970
    I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my mother and her relatives ate always seemed weird, if not distasteful (though as an adult, I've grown to love some of it). I had no idea how much African food influenced what came to be called Southern cooking. We have a blended cuisine but only now are beginning to acknowledge the overwhelming contribution that enslaved people made to the food that was grown and eaten in a large part of America. Twitty's book spurs a desire to know more (and to follow his blog). For anyone interested in American history and how food and agriculture influence who we are (or think we are), this is an essential read. The description of the African American experience from the time of the Middle Passage and beyond, is a critical time to understand as well. I had little knowledge of how much the slave trade was a domestic enterprise, not just one of forced migration and sale from Africa itself. Now for my criticisms, which are the source of my complicated feelings about the book. Mr. Twitty is a skilled historian but the book felts disorganized and disjointed to me. I had a hard time making the transition from chapter to chapter because the internal logic of the book's structure escaped me. He has a vast family tree but it only appears on an early page of the book (which is unreadable in the electronic edition, which is what I had from my library). Trying to constantly re-orient myself was difficult. The chapters would have benefitted from including small chunks of that tree to help better understand the family context in a given chapter. There are no helps with pronunciation either, which caused me to skip some descriptive information (maybe an audio book would help here); the book is loaded with African names of foods, countries, tribes, people, and the like. That's necessary but makes for a tough read at times. There are photos in the book (all of them at the end of the e-book) but they are consolidated in one place and not even referenced within the chapters. It would have been much more helpful to have them associated with the chapters and events he describes. The book was so text heavy that it made for a very long read at times. When you are talking about food, historical places, and the like, visual guides are very helpful and would have engaged me more. As another reviewer noted, there isn't a recipe index either. While there are not a lot of them, many are quite interesting and ones that someone today might want to cook or adapt. Mr. Twitty himself is a fascinating man, a black, gay, Jewish American who has a complicated personal history. His next book is supposed to tackle his life as a Jew. Being Jewish, I'm quite anxious to hear that part of his story. Recommend with the caveat that you must be prepared for chapters that sometimes feel like completely separate essays rather than part of a coherent narrative.
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  • Kelly
    January 1, 1970
    A recommendation from a Book Riot pal and it was a good one! Twitty is black, queer, and Jewish, and he's also a culinary historian with a research and personal interest in the history of food and meals in the south. Twitty narrates, making this more enjoyable to listen to for me than I suspect it would have been reading. It's technical at times and very rooted in research; even when we learn about Twitty's own personal history, it's quite removed and impersonal, which is done purposefully to ma A recommendation from a Book Riot pal and it was a good one! Twitty is black, queer, and Jewish, and he's also a culinary historian with a research and personal interest in the history of food and meals in the south. Twitty narrates, making this more enjoyable to listen to for me than I suspect it would have been reading. It's technical at times and very rooted in research; even when we learn about Twitty's own personal history, it's quite removed and impersonal, which is done purposefully to make a point about the removal of black Americans from their own history. That removal, though, means there's no coming up for air. Aurally, that works well. If food history is of interest and especially black food history in the US, this is a must-read.
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  • Audrey
    January 1, 1970
    I went into this read thinking that this would be a book that focused solely on cooking. Instead, it's so much more: a history text curated along the lines of enslaved African American foodways, a culinary history text examining the economics of the Old South, and an incredible examination of the author's connection to his family and his ancestors, and how he's driven to explore that connection in relation to the first two strata.It's a lot, is what this book is. And it took me a long time to re I went into this read thinking that this would be a book that focused solely on cooking. Instead, it's so much more: a history text curated along the lines of enslaved African American foodways, a culinary history text examining the economics of the Old South, and an incredible examination of the author's connection to his family and his ancestors, and how he's driven to explore that connection in relation to the first two strata.It's a lot, is what this book is. And it took me a long time to read it all. It's excruciatingly well researched, annotated and explanatory, and each chapter dives deeply into a topic: the role of corn and rice in the Low Country, the complexities of tracing genealogy for Black Americans, slave auctions, heritage gardening, the role of persimmons in the cuisine of enslaved African Americans. And when I say deeply, I mean it. That felt intimidating until I realized I will need to reread this book to appreciate its nuances. After that I could relax and know that this first read afforded me only a fraction of what the book has to offer. Twitty is a skilled writer who isn't afraid to insert his own lived experiences into his deep dives into historical research. The result is a heartfelt and incredibly well informed (14 pages of Selected Bibliography) text that provides important and previously missing information about not just the antebellum South but its impact on Black Americans today.
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  • Claire
    January 1, 1970
    Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale. Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slav Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale. Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slavery. He calls it as it is- a generational human tragedy of forced migration, rape, and systematic debasement of a people. Twitty most personally brings this point home when he shares his genome study which proves multiple European men as fathers in his family. This discovery sent him on travels through northern Europe to trace ethno culinary roots there to augment his southern and African oral histories.There are many accounts of slave history in America, this one is especially poignant and relays the grief of forcibly displaced peoples in a way that resonates deeply while honoring the long lasting and pervasive contributions of the African diaspora to American culture from the 17th century to the present.
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  • Cindy
    January 1, 1970
    Didn't finish. Too disjointed and I couldn't stay awake long enough at any stretch to make this a worthwhile use of my time. May have been a function of a hectic schedule, though I think some editing was in order.
  • Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    thoughts coming shortly
  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    This book satisfies on so many levels...a memoir with recipes and American history and genealogy.
  • Joy
    January 1, 1970
    I heard about this book on a podcast (Bite, I think?) and it sounded fascinating and educational so I picked it up and started reading it pretty quickly. The book turned out to be both what I thought it was along with something different, and I learned a lot while reading it.The premise of the book is simple enough - a black man wants to learn more about his family history via the food they eat, along with how that has been affected by social, political, and economic issues throughout the last f I heard about this book on a podcast (Bite, I think?) and it sounded fascinating and educational so I picked it up and started reading it pretty quickly. The book turned out to be both what I thought it was along with something different, and I learned a lot while reading it.The premise of the book is simple enough - a black man wants to learn more about his family history via the food they eat, along with how that has been affected by social, political, and economic issues throughout the last few hundred years. This of course includes slavery and the Jim Crow era, as well as investigating how foodways and traditions from Africa were incorporated into the American South during slavery. One of the more interesting parts of this book is how the author used DNA testing to more accurately determine what areas of Africa and thus America his family were from, and then used that information to explore and learn more about the places they lived and the foods that they eat.In some ways this is a hard book to read, because it is largely about slavery and the issues from it that resonate to this day in America. Racism, rape of enslaved women, forced separation of families, forced migration not only to America but across the South, ghettoization, and devaluement of black labor and black culture are all covered in this book, and it's ugly. However, it is very important to read about this stuff, and the tack of tracing foodways and cooking is an interesting way to follow the author's journey and to learn along with him. There is such a problem in our country of hiding things that have to do with slavery and racism, and especially today that needs to stop - we need to discuss this out in the open, we need to support black people in reclaiming their culture, and we need to center their voices so they can tell their stories. Reading books like this by black authors is a good way for me to educate myself without being a burden to other people of color while I am learning, and I appreciate that the author not only put the work into his own research project but published it to share with the rest of the world.The writing is uneven at times, and there are several places where editing was really needed, as I read and reread sentences and could not figure out what the author was trying to say. His emotion and determination come through clearly, making the book powerful and uncomfortable and educational all at the same time. There is some repetition, and some of the meandering parts of the story could probably be put together in different ways to be clearer, as while I understand the story is not meant to be linear, there are places where it bounces back and forth and is more confusing to the reader because of it.Overall, this is a solid book and it's one that I think white people should read. I learned a lot about the food of the South, even though I grew up in southern Virginia myself, and definitely learned more about the black people in our country and what the fragmentation of their culture has done to them as a whole. Important stuff, especially in today's Trumpian world.
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  • Jo-Ann
    January 1, 1970
    Magnificent read! In many ways it was not an easy read but the layers are thought provoking, at times jarring. The topics covered by Michael Twitty can each command special series in themselves - Ancestry DNA related groups and communities, food as a conduit of cultural norms and so forth. I have read historical cookery writers such as Fannie Farmer and Mrs. Beeton, but this goes way behind the scope of their coverage. I look forward to more from this writer and applaud him in the degree and dep Magnificent read! In many ways it was not an easy read but the layers are thought provoking, at times jarring. The topics covered by Michael Twitty can each command special series in themselves - Ancestry DNA related groups and communities, food as a conduit of cultural norms and so forth. I have read historical cookery writers such as Fannie Farmer and Mrs. Beeton, but this goes way behind the scope of their coverage. I look forward to more from this writer and applaud him in the degree and depth to which he shares himself in the narrative.
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  • Hal Schrieve
    January 1, 1970
    Twitty is a master historian mixed with a master memoirist. This book pulls together years of research and reflection to create a work that is part historical narrative , part family memoir, and which is rich throughout with descriptions of the horrors of America’s culinary history and with moments where real people in the present come together to uncover the past and heal the present through understanding food traditions and the way they tie us together.Twitty traces his own family history in V Twitty is a master historian mixed with a master memoirist. This book pulls together years of research and reflection to create a work that is part historical narrative , part family memoir, and which is rich throughout with descriptions of the horrors of America’s culinary history and with moments where real people in the present come together to uncover the past and heal the present through understanding food traditions and the way they tie us together.Twitty traces his own family history in Virginia and other parts of the South through combining oral history, genealogy, and records of the slave trade to pinpoint approximately when and where his African ancestors entered the Americas. Simultaneously, he describes via primary and secondary sources the agricultural world they would have come from and the new landscape they would have encountered and the additional crops and influences that they would use to create a distinct American culinary tradition. Twitty revisited a number of places from his own ancestors’ past during the course of his research, and in his role as food historian interacted with everyone from farmers at black farmers markets in the south to the fishermen of Low Country to the Gullah-Geechee people to the white descendants of plantation owners and Mennonite sorghum-molasses producers. He uses every opportunity to explore the complex and enormously diverse history of the South. I enjoyed his description of Southern Jewish history and foodways as well as his extensive passages on the ways that wild plants from Africa and America became medical repositories for enslaved people that were ignored by slaveholders. Twitty traces the stories of brutality and resistance and survival in a way that is deeply accessible. His occasional personal anecdotes (his white boyfriend chopping down trees for a traditional eighteenth-century barbecue while wearing lipstick, for instance, or his family making persimmon beer and bread together in the tradition of hundreds of their forebears) are joyful reminders of the love and solidarity that can exist in the present. Twitty notes the indigenous origin of the names and use of American land, flora and fauna, and discusses the way that indigenous American crops were adopted and carried around the world to change food in Ireland and West Africa. He talks about the way that West African food also informed new “American” foods, from the way Southerners cooked and cured meat to the way they grew and ate vegetables. Some of the most emotionally resonant moments are when he switches directly between descriptions of old food and accounts of the way he recreates or revisits it now.This is a must read for anyone interested in Southern history or American history. Its broad perspective and interest in everyone and everything enriches it; Twitty’s emphasis on using information about the past to heal and create just futures is a focus all historians should cultivate.
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  • Debbie Notkin
    January 1, 1970
    This is an extraordinary book. Twitty manages to combine his love of the South and Southern food, his deep personal and ancestral feelings about slavery, his (Jewish) religious faith, his search for his genetic lineage, and more into a compelling, emotional, complex, sensual narrative.He certainly added to my understanding of culinary history, especially in the American south and Africa, but also in northern Europe and elsewhere. He gave me a whole new slant on what the transition of southern ec This is an extraordinary book. Twitty manages to combine his love of the South and Southern food, his deep personal and ancestral feelings about slavery, his (Jewish) religious faith, his search for his genetic lineage, and more into a compelling, emotional, complex, sensual narrative.He certainly added to my understanding of culinary history, especially in the American south and Africa, but also in northern Europe and elsewhere. He gave me a whole new slant on what the transition of southern economy from edible crops to cotton meant in terms of slaves' daily lives and diets. He gave me a much deeper comprehension of what being descended from enslaved people means in his (and by extension, millions of other people's) daily life. He's not even writing about Judaism very much, but he gave me an epiphany regarding Passover, which is a holiday from my tradition--an insight which will affect every Passover seder I host or attend for the rest of my life. I feel incredibly lucky that a couple of my friends knew about him and encouraged me to go hear him speak, and that convinced me to buy the book. I hope I can convince you to buy it too.
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  • Ixan
    January 1, 1970
    This is my book of the year.
  • Patty
    January 1, 1970
    I can understand some reader comments on the cohesiveness (or lack thereof) of this book, but right from the start, Twitty makes no claims that the book is anything other than what it is- the genetics and geneaology of his family and, by extention, of African Americans in general, as well as the culinary and cultural history of African Americans in the creation of a southern or soul food cuisine. The book is certainly a mosaic and there are chapters in which I did not follow the tribal African n I can understand some reader comments on the cohesiveness (or lack thereof) of this book, but right from the start, Twitty makes no claims that the book is anything other than what it is- the genetics and geneaology of his family and, by extention, of African Americans in general, as well as the culinary and cultural history of African Americans in the creation of a southern or soul food cuisine. The book is certainly a mosaic and there are chapters in which I did not follow the tribal African names and the like, but I got the point and did not feel compelled to look up every single thing I did not know. The force of the book is in his journey and his contention that black Americans are looking to find pride in their identity beyond slavery. This is very important and has been the focus of some powerful black movements from Marcus Garvey to the Black Panthers. Some facts were astonishing: Two thirds of America's 19th century export value were from cotton alone. Impossible without the African American workforce. Even though the south depended completely on slave labor for it riches before the Civil War, it treated the slaves most abominably, beyond the obvious horrors of family separation, whippings, rape to insufficient diet, the evils of the company store, etc. And, the United States has never faced the truth of their treatment of both African Americans and Native Americans. An interesting book. If you get lost, skim a bit; it's worth it.
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  • Juushika
    January 1, 1970
    An exploration of the history of African American cuisine via one man's investigations into his enslaved ancestors. Memoirs are usually compulsively readable, even if grim; despite appearances this is too broad in scope to be a memoir, and it's certainly not quick reading. Twitty makes some attempts to justify the book's messy structure, and he's right that the subject, particularly the genealogical focus, is by nature disjointed and complex; this still wants for a refined introduction, a strong An exploration of the history of African American cuisine via one man's investigations into his enslaved ancestors. Memoirs are usually compulsively readable, even if grim; despite appearances this is too broad in scope to be a memoir, and it's certainly not quick reading. Twitty makes some attempts to justify the book's messy structure, and he's right that the subject, particularly the genealogical focus, is by nature disjointed and complex; this still wants for a refined introduction, a stronger roadmap, and better flow within its component parts. At the same time, it effectively combines individual narratives with larger historical setting with the author's personal framework; it's the clearest glimpse I've had into the true scope of slavery in the United States. It makes for a devastating, unremitting reading experience, but Twitty is driven by obvious passion. A complicated book! I'm not convinced it's very well written, but it achieves its lofty central ambition, tying culture to cuisine to African American history, primarily as it informs one individual's worldview. (So it is, in some ways, actually a memoir.) It's exhausting; I'm glad I read it.
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  • Rebecca Farrell
    January 1, 1970
    Twitty provides a fascinating look into how African cooking during the Slave Trade influenced the modern day and historic foods we associate with Southern cooking today, and how climate, cash crops, and the violence visited upon the enslaved all are evident in the cuisine. It's a deep dive into his own personal genealogy and family oral histories as well, written in a way that doesn't provide conclusion, as so many African American people can never fully re-discover their lost roots. A few chapt Twitty provides a fascinating look into how African cooking during the Slave Trade influenced the modern day and historic foods we associate with Southern cooking today, and how climate, cash crops, and the violence visited upon the enslaved all are evident in the cuisine. It's a deep dive into his own personal genealogy and family oral histories as well, written in a way that doesn't provide conclusion, as so many African American people can never fully re-discover their lost roots. A few chapters may be drier to the non-historian reader, but the whole is engaging and necessary work.
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  • BookTrib.com
    January 1, 1970
    The Cooking Gene goes on our must read list - no wonder this book is Number 1 on Amazon releases right now. Read our full review here!https://booktrib.com/2017/07/amazon-c...
  • Richard Duncan
    January 1, 1970
    This is a confounding book. Sometimes it reads like a memoir, at other times a treatise on life under slavery. Or the influences of slavery on American regional cuisines. Or the vagaries of genetic research. The author spends a great deal of time discussing how he explored his ancestry via various DNA services, with inconclusive results. He spends page after page discussing hundreds of relatives and ancestors who figure, in one way or another, into the narrative.And he bounces from topic to topi This is a confounding book. Sometimes it reads like a memoir, at other times a treatise on life under slavery. Or the influences of slavery on American regional cuisines. Or the vagaries of genetic research. The author spends a great deal of time discussing how he explored his ancestry via various DNA services, with inconclusive results. He spends page after page discussing hundreds of relatives and ancestors who figure, in one way or another, into the narrative.And he bounces from topic to topic, thought to thought, even genre to genre, sometimes focused, sometimes rambling. Frequently rambling.But there is so much passion in the narrative, so many insights, so much fascinating – and sometimes horrifying – information that somehow, it all works, it all comes together.Twitty is a food historian, and has spent a great deal of time re-creating the meals that slaves made for their masters, and for themselves. He has studied the origins of many of the foods the slaves ate or cooked and traced their origins in Africa, often tying them to patterns of slave trading – including the targeting of people from certain areas of Africa for specific skills, for knowledge of growing or harvesting certain crops. He has looked at how slaves kept body and soul together, and how their food, their traditions, their gardens, helped them hold on to their culture, helped hold the society together.His research is impressive, and he has spent time with genealogists, chefs, anyone who could help him follow a thought, fill in a blank, come to understand something that has been bothering him.There were times when I wanted more. One of the most fascinating, and horrifying, chapters discussed how the rise of cotton broke the links to their heritage that slaves had preserved through the earlier chapters of slavery. More, definitely more. And times when less might have been better, when the author spent pages and pages following side stories that really didn’t do much to move the narrative forward, to deepen our understanding of the issues at hand.But if you are willing to put in some work to reach the payoff, to follow the author’s rambling voyage of discovery, to learn to see food, culture, and history in new ways – and if you are willing to hear some difficult, sometimes painful truths – this book is certainly worth the effort, and in fact is, to my mind, essential reading.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Fantastic read. It’s a big, dense, multi-faceted book and well worth investing the time and brain power required to read and process it all. I still can’t decide if the author is examining heritage and culture through food or food through heritage and culture. Either way, it’s fascinating and remarkably well-researched. I’ve lived and traveled (and eaten very well!) in several African countries and in the SE US — this book was invaluable in helping me connect the dots among those meals. Twitty a Fantastic read. It’s a big, dense, multi-faceted book and well worth investing the time and brain power required to read and process it all. I still can’t decide if the author is examining heritage and culture through food or food through heritage and culture. Either way, it’s fascinating and remarkably well-researched. I’ve lived and traveled (and eaten very well!) in several African countries and in the SE US — this book was invaluable in helping me connect the dots among those meals. Twitty also simultaneously presents macro and intimate perspectives on slavery and the century-plus of fall-out from it. In that respect, this book warrants a space on my shelf right next to Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.
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  • Jan
    January 1, 1970
    Twitty uses DNA analysis, genealogy and culinary history to explore the lives of his ancestors. This book—informative, insightful and ultimately moving—deepens our understanding of American history and the intertwining of white and African-American lives.
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  • Rj
    January 1, 1970
    The book traces Twitty's journey through his families food history and how it relates to modern African-American culture. Tracing how food and culture inform each other he looks at the genealogy of his own family to explain how certain foods and food cultures developed. I really wanted to like the book more than I actually did, but found the style, which Twitty describes as "bric-a-brac" made it a disjointed and often difficult read. It is however an important book for anyone interested in Afric The book traces Twitty's journey through his families food history and how it relates to modern African-American culture. Tracing how food and culture inform each other he looks at the genealogy of his own family to explain how certain foods and food cultures developed. I really wanted to like the book more than I actually did, but found the style, which Twitty describes as "bric-a-brac" made it a disjointed and often difficult read. It is however an important book for anyone interested in African American culinary traditions. "We need a blueprint as individuals and as a people. We live in a puzzle where the pieces don't even fit together. We need a path so we can put it all together again." 11"So much was lost-names, faces, ages, ethnic identities-that African Americans must do what no other ethnic group writ large must do: take a completely shattered vessel and piece it together, knowing that some pieces will never be recovered." 20"New word: Fressfrumkeit. Yiddish: to be a dedicated Jew through greedily eating delicious Jewish food. Or to put it in a nicer way, to savour the taste of Jewish spirituality through its food." 68 "The kitchen in slavery was a sinister place. The kitchen is where we acquired the eyes of our oppressors, their blood and bones and cheek-blush. The kitchen was, perhaps more than any other space during slavery, the site of rape after rape, sexual violations that led to one of the more unique aspects of African American identity-our almost inextricable blood connection to white Southerners." 107"Foo, racism, power, and justice are linked. What I'm trying to do is dismantle culinary nutritional imperialism and gastronomic white supremacy..." 280 In his author's note at the end of the book, Twitty writes; "The Cooking Gene is a work of narrative nonfiction intended to weave together elements of genealogical documentation genetic genealogy, first-hand accounts from primary sources, the most recent findings of culinary and cultural historians, and personal memoir. My aim has been to give a sense of the bric-a-brac mosaic that is the average African American's experience when he or she attempts to look back to recapture our cultural and culinary identities obscured by the consequence of racial chattel slavery." 417
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  • Melissa Fondakowski
    January 1, 1970
    I don't have the words to really express what I felt reading this tremendous work. I only feel lucky that Michael Twitty wrote this story and I got to read it. I learned about the experience and struggle of enslaved Africans and their descendants not as objects of an old discarded history (as our childhood textbooks would have it, if they had it at all), but rather as living truth, alive in our hearts, minds, and foodways. Michael Twitty is such a generous and inviting writer, I am forever chang I don't have the words to really express what I felt reading this tremendous work. I only feel lucky that Michael Twitty wrote this story and I got to read it. I learned about the experience and struggle of enslaved Africans and their descendants not as objects of an old discarded history (as our childhood textbooks would have it, if they had it at all), but rather as living truth, alive in our hearts, minds, and foodways. Michael Twitty is such a generous and inviting writer, I am forever changed by this book.
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