I happened across this interesting article on an actual food blog, of all places! I found it ironic that the post itself was presented in a food blogging type format, with an enticing cover picture followed by a bit of an introduction to the article by the author, then the actual Top 20 tips for food blogging. I couldn’t help but notice that most of the “tips” seemed to fall into one of two categories: either “Common Sense/Personal Touches” or “Business Sense”. The Common Sense tips all felt kind of obvious and self-explanatory to me. Do I really need this Food Blogger telling me not to be fake, make friends, and “do what my mama told me”? However, the more I thought about it, I realized that the average food blog post includes steps that might seem basic to some, such as instructing the reader how to tell if a pot of water is boiling, or instructions on determining the ripeness of fruits and vegetables. So ultimately, I can’t blame the author for covering all her bases and including advice of a more personal than a technical nature, because it is just a part of her job. I thought several of the Business Sense tips were pretty informative/interesting. Search engine optimization, and acquiring a domain name are true insider tips that many rookie and even a few veteran food bloggers would potentially benefit from knowing about. As the author states in her introduction, “Food blogging is hard work” and until I read through and contemplated this article, I hadn’t considered just how technically challenging it truly could be.

While reading Jessica Harris’s “In Sorrow’s Kitchen”, I was very interested in how slavery effected the development of African American Food Culture in the south. Unlike almost all other food culture’s on earth slavery forced African American food culture in the south to be heavily influenced by foods which could be gathered at night, in secret, or simply stolen. In many cases this consisted of food that in other circumstances would never have been a staple of their diet. For instance while opossum might be occasionally eaten outside of slavery it became a large influencer on Southern African American Food Culture because it could be gathered at night. Before reading this article I always assumed that slaves simply ate what they were given, and I never thought about how things like catfish became a huge part of African American Food Culture. This demonstrates that no matter how terrible a people’s circumstances are they will always find a way to create a food culture for themselves using whatever recourses they have. Humans have developed to a point where no matter what our situation food will always represent one’s identity not simply nourishment. During their time in bondage African American’s were able to create an identity for themselves through food culture that was uniquely theirs despite their masters oppression. Through the terribleness of slavery a new and unique food culture was created that has lasted to this day, and has become a irreplaceable part of the food culture of the Southern United States.

One part of Jessica Harris’ In Sorrow’s Kitchen that was something I had never heard before was when the mother pulled her daughter aside and told her that instead of seeing the pain and suffering that many slaves had experienced she saw talent, artistry, ability, industry and, amazing grace. This was something frankly I had never thought of before focusing on the positive outcomes and triumphs of the slaves instead of focusing on their suffering. A little later on in the story Harris explains that some slaves were given land to have their own garden on and after working in the fields they were allowed to grow their own food. This was a time for slaves to have some pride in their own work and showcase their farming abilities. Their abilities were good enough that there are records of Jefferson purchasing what the slaves had grown in their garden. This connects back to my earlier point of looking at the successes of the slave instead of their sorrows. Instead of seeing that the slaves were forced to do more work after an already long day in the fields working, by being allowed to have their own gardens was a chance for them to have some control over their lives and express their feelings though growing what they wanted like and what food meant something to them.

While reading Jessica Harris’ In Sorrow’s Kitchen, there were many relatable things. Generally, the overall sadness of acknowledging the horrific injustice done to a group of people not even a century ago was enough to make me weary. I had the same dilemma — wanting to enjoy the twisted, romantic plot of Gone with the Wind, but having been made to watch Roots at a young age to “become more culturally aware”, know that the antebellum South was a lot less romanticized for people like myself.

This post could go in many, many directions. However, not having the energy to go down the rabbit hole, I’ll keep it light an focus on a recent topic of conversation between me and one of my best friends: cookouts vs. BBQs.

Desmond-Harris’ article, ‘Barbecue’ vs. ‘Cookout’: What Race Has to Do With It addresses a common cultural difference when it comes to summertime meals. As stated in the article,

“From barbecue’s origins in traditions surrounding the roasting of meat in West Africa to its role in plantation gatherings to its place in the story of the Gabriel Prosser rebellion and the Nat Turner insurrection (they both began with clandestine barbecues), Twitty says, “it’s an art form that was essentially in the hands of black cooks for centuries.”

This point is directly addressed in Harris’ work, saying “…there might be a barbecue. The cooks for these events were black men.” Reading through the following paragraph, I chuckled. Relating the enthusiasm of these men in preparing for the barbecue to members of my own family and the pride they took in “grilling out” I also noted that the barbecue was classified as an event and not just a meal. I think this may be one of the most notable differences that my friend and I discussed about cookouts and barbecues. For barbecues, there’s usually hours – days of preparation, a plethora of sides, multiple dessert options, music, family games, extended family you even forgot you had, etc. Every barbecue is literally like a miniature family reunion, cause for celebration.

In reading Harris’ work, it is clear to see the roots of this concept and why this meal and this event are associated with more than just eating. It’s about feasting — nurturing your mind, body, and soul. Surrounding yourself with the things that will help you recharge from a hard day’s work.

This National Geographic article discusses the importance of slaves in the modern American culinary culture. The article begins by bringing up common food items and revealing their African roots. One of the food historians interviewed brought up the fact that slave traders brought over food from Africa to ensure the slave’s health and their independence when it came to food. The rest of the article details the struggle for historians to keep the African culture and history of these foods alive. They believe it to be very difficult as White slave owners tried their hardest to erase any evidence of slave culture, leading to a vacuum of works of the African American experience. Today, African Americans can touch their ancestor’s culture by cooking and consuming the same foods, which is one of the only ways to remember them.

One aspect that really stood out to me in Jessica Harris’ In Sorrow’s Kitchen was something I never took the time to think about:  The birth of a food culture from slavery.  While I have been taught and lectured about the day to day life and awful conditions of slaves in the antebellum South, I had never put much thought into the food eaten by slaves, always having assumed that it was simply what they were provided, or ‘allowed’ to eat by their owners.  I was intrigued listening to Harris describing the foods hunted and gathered by many slaves, which in addition to what they were provided included among many things opossum, catfish, garlic and chives.  The action of hunting and gathering specific foods continued to enforce how essential a culture of food is to the existence of any people.

It just struck me that even though they were pulled from their native land, into an area they likely knew little about, and that they were given very little free time outside of their work, the slaves were able to not only begin to identify the items worthy of hunting, gathering and eating in the wild, but also go about acquiring them and finding ways to cook them that are still prevalent in African American culture.  The existence of such a food culture, that consists of meats and greens caught and gathered by slaves, shows how basic, necessary and important food culture is.  It’s just very interesting to see that even though whites tried to restrict so many freedoms and cultural aspects, slaves still created a culture of food that was good enough and important enough to have trickled down through the generations.

In addition, the few slaves that were given free time enforced the importance of food culture by devoting even more time to raising plants, harvesting them and even eventually selling them back to the land owners.  In these situations, Harris points out that slaves often grew plants like Okra and Watermelon, two deeply southern food items that are still very prevalent in traditional dishes.  It is just fascinating to me to see that even when a community of people is oppressed and restricted, a culture of food that is still represented and enjoyed today can be created.  It shows just how important a culture of food is to any population of people, and just how smart and resilient the slaves were during early America.

From the two articles, we can better understand both the atrocities and common misunderstandings which have taken root from the antebellum period through an analysis of the diets of both slaves as well as slave owners. Often when hearing facts of what occurred during slavery, our perception of the time period tends to be bias due to only perceiving small samples of the information. In In Sorrows Kitchen this misunderstanding is covered in response to the modern day image of all slavery existing on large plantations. “No myth is more pervasive in the history of the United States than the myth of the plantation South- one that is celebrated by some and decried by others.” The article goes on to say that only 1% slave owners owned over a hundred slaves; on average slave owners owned 10 slaves. This is a long stretch from our perception of slavery during antebellum America. By analyzing the diets found on a plantation, we can gain a more holistic perception of the events that actually took place during this period. This allows us to draw a fine distinguishing line between individuals of various social strata based upon the quality and abundance of their diets.

Often slaves worked in cash crop type of fields such as tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar. Though slaves were constantly exposed to cash crops, they were never able to access them in their day to day lives as these commodities were generally reserved to the wealthy who possessed a more lavish lifestyle. After reading both articles, we gain a clearer understanding of slave’s diets and the contrast when compared to the diets of the wealthy landowners. This gives the reader a very vivid understanding in the difference in class between the two groups as food is a relatable subject. In the personal narrative of Mary Prince, she detailed her times as a slave describing what she cooked for her owners as well as what she ate on a daily basis. Prince may have had a basic meal of “potatoes and milk” whereas she would be cooking a more extravagant full meal for her owners.  In Sorrows Kitchen, the black male slaves prepare large barbeques over the course of several days during which they are allotted barely enough food to survive. The mentality during the time was that providing for slaves encompassed giving them the bare minimum for survival and functionality. This mentality is highlighted in the excerpt from In Sorrows Kitchen, “Feeding the enslaved, however, had of necessity to be economically viable process. Rations had to be sufficiently nourishing to allow the enslaved to perform their tasks but could not be so lavish as to be unprofitable.” This meant that while slave owners where over indulging in their large barbeques and living lifestyles centered around luxury crops like tobacco and sugar, the slaves where there producing the crops and preparing the food all while barely nourished and struggling to survive. The social division of food, which is made abundantly clear in In Sorrows Kitchen, allows the reader to more firmly perceive the horrors of slavery and the reality which was malnutrition. It brings forth the reality that was not only a bland diet, but one which wasn’t fit for survival. It highlights the slave’s knowledge of a lavish lifestyle and brings forth the realization of their perception that they truly could not possess it. It allows us to highlight their hunger and proximity to substantiating food, as well as their inability to take hold of the nutrients needed to live a physically healthy life.

In the final portions of In Sorrow’s Kitchen, Harris describes the process through which traditionally African food culture merges into Southern food culture. Harris asserts that use of slaves in Southern kitchens allows these cultures to combine and create the “Southern” food culture that we understand today. Harris even references the presence of okra and other African vegetables in cookbooks as a way to “Point to the ubiquity of okra dishes on the developing Southern table” (106). Examining these cookbooks provides an interesting way to analyze the source of ingredients, but I was able to make a personal connection between these ingredients and a Southern lifestyle.

At a young age, my family moved to rural Georgia to live closer to my grandparents. One interesting trait about my grandparents is their continued devotion to growing their own vegetables and serving them at almost every meal. Ingredients that I now understand as foreign to the Americas naturally remind me of my lifestyle back at home. Two ingredients in particular, squash and okra, distinctly remind me of the Southern food culture. I think that this personal connection to the food (and a recipe for fried okra from my grandmother that I will vehemently defend as the best friend okra on the planet) provides stronger evidence for a Southern food culture than any primary source or Southern cookbook.

Although anecdotal, this personal connection to these ingredients allows for an interesting investigation into food history. Drawing from the Getting Started in Food History article, I should ask myself and my family “What events caused this cultural clash for my family?” From the top of my head, I know little about my family history or the ways that these foods became an important part of our lifestyle and food culture. Through themes discussed in this course about the importance of food and historical context, I’ll search for a way to explain this phenomenon. The discussions and questions that arise from analyzing the dinner table show the value of food to history and culture. In a way, I’m thankful that I was able to ask these questions about the past, and I look forward to creating more questions in the future.

Harris’ piece starts off by talking a bit about slave history then about how the states went about abolishing slavery and finally hits the central point of her article – the food cooked by the slaves and how they affected everything else around them. The thing that I found the most interesting (or surprising) was just how diverse the meals were that the slaves ate. They fished for “catfish, porgies, mullet…” and even had land to farm their own “okra, chili peppers, and eggplants”. Although the food they were given by their masters was usually rationed, they all gathered around as a community after work to cook their food. They celebrated holidays like Christmas and had Sundays as “free time”.

There’s so much more history attached to their lives and the meals they ate than I originally thought. Having taken an entire year on American History in high school, none of this information is every mentioned. Slaves are always depicted as over-worked slaves that are starving and essentially, they have no life outside of working. They work from dawn to dusk and are mistreated by their slave masters. The viewpoint is always seen from their masters and never from the slaves themselves – so this image that can be seen from this piece is a bit jarring. It’s almost as if history textbooks have clumped all slaves together into one category called “slaves” and have created a stereotypical image of them. Harris’ piece refutes this and mentions that as you go more south or west, “the harder they [the slaves] are worked, and the worse they are used”.

My question would be is it acceptable to clump these slaves together as one instead of showing their lives as they were in Harris’ article? Why don’t we focus more on the live of these slaves considering there was an entire war about them? I feel like depicting them all as one isn’t correct for those slaves that had a more “normal” life. This article shows that for slavery – it’s a very messy and blurry line that I feel like hasn’t been drawn properly.

In High on the Hog, the Jessica Harris often reference family cooking throughout the excerpt. Family food history doesn’t necessarily involve simply food passed down from one generation to another. Family food can have much deeper links than just involving a household itself. It can link to a wider range of people, even be a representation of a group of people. The areas involving food is a key heritage between the author’s heritage and a connection to her own family.

In the beginning the author would often reference her family cooking and her mother’s interest to the past involving slavery. This would lead into the work itself as she provides an overview of plantation living and lifestyle for the slaves. It goes from structuring in the earlier days to accounts given of their lifestyle. What is interesting is how the author doesn’t focus on a certain group of slaves, but that of various different areas and people. This overarching unification of food provides similar accounts in terms of types of food that was available and how a distinct style of cooking came to be. It also provides the read an understanding of how these slaves bonded and how similar they were as to imply a collective whole whilst still being having individualistic aspects.

The accounts provided by the author involves not only slaves, but those on the outside looking in. It showed a clear difference between the two different kind of peoples during the period, not just in the style of the accounts, but also a separation compared to the slave accounts. Throughout the piece those looking out to within give factual descriptions of what the slaves had to eat. While the narratives explain a much more personal response of what they had to deal with during the time period.

Even as the work is mostly a description piece of history, it also shows a connection to what the author considered important. Even separated into regions there grows a distinct culture of food that even with different ingredients showed a foundation that would change throughout a household. This food culture is harsh, but the people made it their own. It is tied to them in both history through family heritage and documents connecting various people and places together.