“My Food is my Flag”

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

Author: Michael W. Twitty

Genre: nonfiction history memoir

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Summary: The Cooking Gene is a memoir by Culinary Historian Michael W. Twitty. In his memoir, Twitty teaches us about his African American ancestry, their traditions, talents, foods, and their role in American enslavement. Also in The Cooking Gene, Twitty connects culinary influences that the enslaved Africans, European enslavers, and Indigenous natives had on southern food.


Thoughts before reading the book: My family on both sides are from small towns in Georgetown County, South Carolina. Many eventually moved up North but raised their children the southern way. That included the manners, accents, remedies, superstitions, and soul food. As generations come and go, so do traditions. There are some parts of tradition, especially food, that I would like to keep and pass down to my future children. One being my Aunt's Chicken Perlo, a South Carolina chicken and rice dish made with spices, the perfect vinegar, and love!


The Cooking Gene had been on my TBR list for a while, but I was recently inspired to read it after my Aunt taught me her secret Chicken Perlo recipe. My heart was so full cooking in the kitchen with her and learning a recipe that I loved eating growing up. I wanted to learn more about the history of soul food. I wanted to continue to feel that pride and appreciation for black culture through food.


Thoughts after reading the book: Even though this is Twitty’s memoir, I feel that this history is a part of my story too! Not only did I learn that Twitty’s family was from South Carolina, but we share the same African ancestry. Both Twitty and I took the African Ancestry DNA test and have a lineage that links our genetics to the Fula people of Guinea- Bissau and the Mende and Temne people of Sierra Leone. These African tribes were known as the rice experts and when enslaved were brought to South Carolina to work the land. Twitty explained that Georgetown County, South Carolina “was the heart of the rice plantation industry.” I remember having an “aha moment” making the connection of how a simple staple product like rice from my Aunt’s pot of Chicken Perlo can reach back many years ago to the rice dishes of my African ancestors.


Of course, when I found this out I had to follow Twitty on Instagram! Don’t you know I found that he was teaching a 3 part class called Shared Soul: A Culinary Journey from West & Central Africa to the American South with Atlas Obscura?! I signed up immediately! Talk about perfect timing!

I loved being able to hear Twitty speak live about topics that he discussed in his book. He was so passionate, knowledgeable, was down to earth, and had the class engaged and laughing the whole time. He shared with us historical documents, excerpts from old historical cookbooks, and a ton of recipes. I started off with an easy West African Vegetarian Okra Soup dish which came out bomb! I can't wait to try some of the other recipes!

Once again I felt that pride that comes with one learning a piece of themselves. Twitty had a ton of quotable moments in The Cooking Gene, but one that stays with me is “my food is my flag”. Many Black Americans don’t have the privilege of knowing their African Ancestry. As I’ve heard the Co-Founder and President of African Ancestry DNA, Gina Paige, say, enslaved Africans experienced the worst type of identity theft. They were stripped of their names, language, religions, traditions, etc., but they were not able to strip them of our DNA and soul which ties black people across the diaspora. I am so glad that I was able to find a piece of myself and history through The Cooking Gene.


- Maya & The Spine Down



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