Do you wonder how our culture influences how and what we eat? For a large part of the world’s nearly 170 million people of the African Diaspora, what is cooked in the kitchen and served at the table is, as Maya Angelou says, “more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.”
Remnants of the Diaspora can be found in the shared foods, traditions and values that today are blended on both coal fires and electric stove tops, and enjoyed by many on kitchen counters and dining room tables. Food serves an important role in connecting people to their culture and heritage. Many use food as a way to preserve their cultural identity.
It is because of the Diaspora that today we can savor rice and peas in Jamaica, eat a prato de feijoada in Brazil, and grub on red beans and rice in Louisiana. Meals are rooted in tradition. And it is a part of our culture. It is no coincidence that in the United States, we coined this cuisine “soul food.”
My first memories of soul food began with mixing spices, stirring sauces and laughing in the kitchen with those I loved most. However, through my many meals, I’ve come to find that soul, not exclusive ingredients, is the component that brings recipes to life. Food is a connector; if it had a social media presence, it would be among the top influencers!
Thanksgiving is filled with food, loved ones and appreciation. As you savor each dish served on the table you are sharing, you may wonder how some of these flavors came to be, and whose imagination and circumstances brought them to life. Our world kitchen and shared table is rooted in the African continent. We have an opportunity to celebrate and a responsibility to recognize the contributions that black people have made to global culinary traditions. The bondage of an entire population, our very ancestors, taught us that if you find yourself living through some of the harshest circumstances, if you keep an open mind and a strong will, you can still make a delicious meal out of anything.
It is important that we share with our children, especially in times like this, messages about unity and celebrating ancestral traditions through food. My Jamaican parents did that for me and my siblings. Many of the foods and special dishes my family ate can be traced back to the tables of our ancestors in Africa: red beans and rice, cassava, dumplings, plantains, breadfruit, yam and bananas—nourishment from the earth. And as I got older and made friends in school with people of varied ethnic backgrounds, I learned that my friends from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and India eat the same foods, and that “we are more alike than we are unalike.”
And through books such as my children’s picture book, Rice & Rocks, which celebrates culture and diversity, we can instill in our children at an early age the importance of embracing varied cultural contributions. By teaching the next generation how interconnected people across continents are, we can finally begin to embrace the belief that we really are all one.