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The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

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Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes listeners to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes listeners 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. Twitty travels from the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields to tell of the struggles his family faced and how food enabled his ancestors' survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and black-owned organic farms in Georgia.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 South's past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep-the power of food to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.


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Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes listeners to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes listeners 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. Twitty travels from the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields to tell of the struggles his family faced and how food enabled his ancestors' survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and 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 South's past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep-the power of food to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

30 review for The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra on hiatus in hospital & not the beach,Cancun

    Finally a review, of sorts. 10 Star book! The author is gay, black, white, Jewish and a historian and a writer, an amazing writer. With all that background, was hoping for a book that was really out of the ordinary and I got it. The author, from a black Christian family in the deep South decided at 6 he was Jewish. Nearly 20 years later he became an Orthodox Jew as well as a food historian and a lecturer and cook on a plantation to tour groups who wanted to see not only the where and what of sla Finally a review, of sorts. 10 Star book! The author is gay, black, white, Jewish and a historian and a writer, an amazing writer. With all that background, was hoping for a book that was really out of the ordinary and I got it. The author, from a black Christian family in the deep South decided at 6 he was Jewish. Nearly 20 years later he became an Orthodox Jew as well as a food historian and a lecturer and cook on a plantation to tour groups who wanted to see not only the where and what of slavery, but also had a particular interest in the food. This is his story and history. A memoir as much as anything else. MWT (I want to call him Michael, I feel so close to him, like a friend, his writing is at the same time, academic, informative and very warm and friendly) had his dna tested by several labs and followed up all the many, many elements that had gone into making him. Had gone into making America. Not just the heritage of the African slaves from many different lands, all of whom had different food traditions, but that of the European and from further afield in the world. He related all this to him, his community and to the influence on the South and more to the whole of America, his blackness, his food, his traditions including religious influence, and the recent Jewish influence on his food (not that he was strictly kosher outside the house, which is pretty standard). This is a big thick and detailed read. It's one you have to pay attention to and reread parts of it. It's not something you can read in a few days, nor would you want to. You would think that a book like this would be quite hard to hand sell, but I have been so passionate about it that I always have a couple of copies in the shop waiting for the right person to come in so I can tell them about it. I know my customers, I know they are going to love it as much as I did. And I hope that, should you read it, you will too.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

    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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica **can't read fast enough**

    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: •(♥).•*Monica Is Reading*•.(♥)• Twitter: @monicaisreading Instagram: @readermonica Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    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."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella

    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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    "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...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    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. 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    What a beautiful, emotional, thought-provoking book. Mr. Twitty wrote a work that in an autobiography of himself and his known family, and so much more. It's about genealogy, and the ugliness of slavery, and food--food, being more than sustenance, but a source of stories, history, culture, and soul. This is a read that will linger with me for a very long time. What a beautiful, emotional, thought-provoking book. Mr. Twitty wrote a work that in an autobiography of himself and his known family, and so much more. It's about genealogy, and the ugliness of slavery, and food--food, being more than sustenance, but a source of stories, history, culture, and soul. This is a read that will linger with me for a very long time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    **30 Books in 30 Days** Book 11/30 I'm feeling like a dick on this one, but I didn't have the reading experience I was hoping for with such glowing reviews. I didn't hate it, or even dislike it, but I didn't really like it all that much either. I had two main problems here. The first may or may not have been exacerbated by the second, but as of right now, I have no way of knowing. Before I get to my issues, this book is chock full of history, memoir, and food rethought. That part of it, the subjec **30 Books in 30 Days** Book 11/30 I'm feeling like a dick on this one, but I didn't have the reading experience I was hoping for with such glowing reviews. I didn't hate it, or even dislike it, but I didn't really like it all that much either. I had two main problems here. The first may or may not have been exacerbated by the second, but as of right now, I have no way of knowing. Before I get to my issues, this book is chock full of history, memoir, and food rethought. That part of it, the subject matter, worked for me. Twitty travels through history and across the South visiting and revisiting both his own experiences with Southern food, but also the idea of Southern food in general. He goes into the complexities of how history has shaped our ideas of food today in ways we just don't think about it. He clearly knows his stuff, and it was fun to see him use his knowledge to really delve into a subject he obviously loves. The way it was written and the way I read it just weren't the best vehicle for me to experience all that passion and knowledge. My first issue was that it felt scattered. He jumps from thought to thought, subject to subject, from historical musings, to anecdotes about his life, to times he talked with someone about something, to whatever else, constantly. It was extremely disorienting. I wanted a lot more structure in this than he seemed to want to give. I was constantly having to rewind to see if I could figure out what was going on and who or what he was referring to now. As I mentioned above, this problem was mostly likely made worse by my much bigger issue, but since I can't get around that right now, I don't have any way of knowing if I would have cared about this if I'd read the book a different way. My second and bigger issue was that I did the audiobook, and it's narrated by the author, and I do not at all care for the way he went about doing that. I don't know if there's actually a nice way to say that somebody isn't a good audio narrator, but I really do not think he was the person for this job, no matter how close to the subject matter he felt. I have had books ruined by audio narrators before, and while this one wasn't ruined really, it was dramatically lessened. I can only imagine what a good narrator would have done with this material. It is *extremely* rare that an author has the chops to narrate their own books, and even the better ones that can mostly pull it off (i.e. Neil Gaiman) wisely let someone else do it most of the time. If I ever wrote a book you can bet your butts I would not narrate it. I sort of blame myself on this one, because I always always check an audio sample before I choose to do the audio on a book, specifically because I've been burned before, and I did not do that here, for whatever reason. So it is very possible my meh feelings about this book would not exist if I had done that and just read the hard copy. In fact, I may pick this back up in a couple of years and do just that. Read Harder Challenge 2021: Read a food memoir by an author of color.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Umi

    Listened to this as an audiobook, and at the risk of sounding like a first grader, it was a great audiobook because Twitty was a compelling narrator and mainly because it was long. Like other reviewers have pointed out, it’s a little disjointed at times, and the beginning and end veer into unnecessarily florid NPR-style territory. Some people probably loved that but I was like ?? Is this the guy who wrote the article about going to Ghana in Bon Appetit in 2018 ?? I remember that article not taki Listened to this as an audiobook, and at the risk of sounding like a first grader, it was a great audiobook because Twitty was a compelling narrator and mainly because it was long. Like other reviewers have pointed out, it’s a little disjointed at times, and the beginning and end veer into unnecessarily florid NPR-style territory. Some people probably loved that but I was like ?? Is this the guy who wrote the article about going to Ghana in Bon Appetit in 2018 ?? I remember that article not taking itself as overdone-sentimentally ? There was a joke about pizza rat ? Where did that guy go ? Anyway he was that guy and he’s hiding later in the book. The passages where Twitty is visiting other chefs or charting alimentary and cultural developments are super interesting, and he weaves in his family oral histories and uncovered facts in an effective manner, but at times it did feel like ? Is this branded content for DNA testing ? I’m being a little glib, as the minute details of his genetic testing experiences will likely be really useful to some people; it’s more a case of my slight missing the point when choosing an audiobook striking again - the book is called The Cooking Gene, not, like, Cool Stories about My Family Interwoven with the Story of Food in America. One star docked because he thinks people in Liverpool are nicer than Londoners and he isn’t effusive enough about the regrettably brief time he spends in Brixton. I also dock one star from myself for having to end every review with a punchline.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Renée | Book Girl Magic

    ‪The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty took me places I wasn’t expecting to go! Like, y’all don’t understand. I LIVED in Charleston, SC (while in college) for 2.5 years and yet still learned so much about it from this book. In the middle of the book, I thought to myself....I’ve never been so excited to read a chapter in my life. Learning about the Gullah-Geechee’s of Charleston, SC and how they came to be. I’ve always been fascinated when it came to the language and how peeps born and raised in ‪The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty took me places I wasn’t expecting to go! Like, y’all don’t understand. I LIVED in Charleston, SC (while in college) for 2.5 years and yet still learned so much about it from this book. In the middle of the book, I thought to myself....I’ve never been so excited to read a chapter in my life. Learning about the Gullah-Geechee’s of Charleston, SC and how they came to be. I’ve always been fascinated when it came to the language and how peeps born and raised in SC, speak like they’re from the islands. lol It also speaks on Low Country cooking and how it too came to be. So cool to read up on the history of a place that i lived in for a couple years. I’m appreciative of all the research and effort that Mr. Twitty put into this book. I am a foodie and it was interesting to hear about all of the comfort foods that we eat so often, how our ancestors grew and prepared them and the origins in which they came from. Our ancestors played such an important role in the foods we consume today. I highly recommend this read. A ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. A true gem that I will cherish and definitely revisit again! 💛‬

  18. 4 out of 5

    Esther Espeland

    Ahhhh so GOOD! Culinary history, autobiography, genealogy all with lovely witty prose!! If you love food writing this one is for you! I loved how twitty brings his queerness and his Jewishness into his writing about Black food- especially enjoyed his chapter on Jewish southern food (corresponding recipe for west African brisket), and his gay lil quips interspersed here n there. Especially right now, when we all (right??) feel so stagnant in the present, this book is a powerful lesson on introspe Ahhhh so GOOD! Culinary history, autobiography, genealogy all with lovely witty prose!! If you love food writing this one is for you! I loved how twitty brings his queerness and his Jewishness into his writing about Black food- especially enjoyed his chapter on Jewish southern food (corresponding recipe for west African brisket), and his gay lil quips interspersed here n there. Especially right now, when we all (right??) feel so stagnant in the present, this book is a powerful lesson on introspecting, learning, reckoning with our familial and ancestral histories. So so well researched, heartily recommend to my food loving friends, Brb gonna make some gumbo this week!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    audrey

    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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jo-Ann

    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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    thoughts coming shortly

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    This was a really remarkable book. Identity, history, diaspora and food, all mixed together into one text, just like they are mixed into one human being. Definitely recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This book satisfies on so many levels...a memoir with recipes and American history and genealogy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Juushika

    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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This book is exactly as good as everyone says it is. It's a brilliant work of narrative nonfiction that makes history wonderous, moving, and visceral. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in food history, American history, or narrative approaches to the telling of history. This book is exactly as good as everyone says it is. It's a brilliant work of narrative nonfiction that makes history wonderous, moving, and visceral. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in food history, American history, or narrative approaches to the telling of history.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    Really enjoyed this history of the South, the roots of American and African American cooking, and memoir of sorts from a queer, Black chef who is apparently located in the DC area. It's a very interesting and unflinching take on cultural adaption, appropriation, syncretism, and family history. Really enjoyed this history of the South, the roots of American and African American cooking, and memoir of sorts from a queer, Black chef who is apparently located in the DC area. It's a very interesting and unflinching take on cultural adaption, appropriation, syncretism, and family history.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    admittedly skipped some chapters but others (adam in the garden, crossroads, sankofa) were so magic and alive...definitely helped me think more abt food and crisscrossing ancestries and reconnecting to homeland. hopefully one day i'll get to see michael twitty talk or cook but for now i'll reread all his things admittedly skipped some chapters but others (adam in the garden, crossroads, sankofa) were so magic and alive...definitely helped me think more abt food and crisscrossing ancestries and reconnecting to homeland. hopefully one day i'll get to see michael twitty talk or cook but for now i'll reread all his things

  29. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Notkin

    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.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Blount

    I learned so much honest American history reading this, as well enjoying the personal journey the author took into reclaiming and understanding his legacies. If food is love, this book is Twitty's love letter to his ancestors. I learned so much honest American history reading this, as well enjoying the personal journey the author took into reclaiming and understanding his legacies. If food is love, this book is Twitty's love letter to his ancestors.

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