The food of the South is one of the most complicated, complex, contradictory cuisines in the U.S. This is the region where a monumental mixing of crops and culinary traditions gave way to one of the most punishing, damaging monocultures in the country; where food born in violence and slavery led to delicious, nutritious dishes. It’s also the region that laid the tablecloth for seasonal, farm-to-table dining, as well as drive-through fast food. In this episode, authors Michael Twitty and John T. Edge, two of the nation’s leading voices on Southern food, take listeners on a tour through their shared history.
Chef Michael Twitty, author of the forthcoming The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South, describes the South in the first centuries after Europeans arrived as a “dazzling new foodscape”—one that could not have existed before 1502, the first documented account of an enslaved African transported to North America by Europeans. Along the southeastern seaboard, Native Americans, with their indigenous plants and culinary traditions, mixed with Europeans, who had brought crops from home, and slaves from across West Africa who, even shackled, smuggled seeds across the ocean. It was those Africans who, as enslaved farmers and chefs, blended their own diverse culinary and agricultural traditions with those of the people around them to create an entirely new cuisine—one that “people had to invent a whole new language” to describe, Twitty told us.