Blog of the Weik: Afroculinaria
When my eyes first came across the title “Afroculinaria,” my brain focused on the “culinaria” part first and my stomach growled second. Would this blog be like FoodPornDaily, full of high-res, close-up pictures of every dish imaginable from a gooey peanut butter cheese pie to a bowl of crispy fried fish sprinkled with lime? Or would it more closely resemble a restaurant-scene blog like Eater, scoping out local eateries and giving readers the heads up on which places offer happy hour and which ones have gross bathrooms?
The correct answer is that “Afroculinaria” mirrors neither of these blog styles; in fact, it’s not even strictly a food blog. While food is the main focus here, “culinary anthropologist” Michael W. Twitty uses his blog to study the foodways of both enslaved Africans and African-Americans and how these dishes influence the way we eat today.
Crediting himself as a “food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian and historical interpreter,” Twitty created “Afroculinaria” back in 2011 in an effort to preserve the connections between the food culture of the American South today and its origins in Africa long ago.
When he’s not blogging about his research or receiving recognition for being one of the food world’s leaders in the media, Twitty teaches Judaic studies as a professor in Washington D.C.
You may think Twitty is too busy to be constantly updating his blog –– but he does, and what’s most remarkable about it is that an impressive amount of outside research goes into each post. No emojis or copy-and-pasted Wikipedia quotes here.
In one of his earliest posts, Twitty explores the history behind an “Antebellum Barbecue Sauce” recipe … and then prepares it, takes photos and delivers his critic’s verdict. Where did he find the recipe? Straight from the narrative of a Mr. Wesley Jones, who was born a slave in 1840 in South Carolina and developed an expertise in hosting barbecues for the planter class, not knowing that he’d be the inspiration behind Fourth of July barbecues and Super Bowl tailgating parties. Twitty even connects this tradition to an age-old African cultural tradition: “babbake,” which means “to grill, toast or broil,” comes from the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.
In addition to deconstructing recipes, Twitty doesn’t pass up the opportunity to comment on various holiday traditions, one of them being Kwanzaa, a holiday derived from the Swahili term for “first fruits” of a harvest, founded in 1966 to celebrate African-American culture.
He connects African history with American food culture by sharing the seven principles of Kwanzaa —– the “Nguzo Saba” –– in a language that food lovers can understand. The first principle, for example –– “umoja,” or “unity” –– is described by him as “I may eat grits, and you may eat sadza … but we are one people with many faces.” “Nia,” or “purpose,” recognizes the necessity to think outside oneself when it comes to food, like thinking about where your money goes when you purchase your ingredients.
Sometimes, Twitty documents his own programs and demonstrations he gives. In August of 2012, he gave a food demonstration in Jamestown, detailing the beginnings of African-American food heritage by preparing several recipes from 17th century Angola around an open campfire for guests, then showing how the recipes have evolved over time.
He also participates in live commentary on Twitter, where readers can ask him about aspects of slave history or where their favorite soul foods come from.
It’s not your average Instagram-your-meal food blog, but “Afroculinaria” proves to be so much more informative. We don’t often pause inbetween bites of our hamburgers and ask “Hey, where does this even come from?” but that’s why we have Twitty to ask questions for us. This blog doesn’t just describe food; it analyzes the role food plays in a civilization. If that doesn’t prepare your palate, I don’t know what will.