Today is Juneteenth - a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. Not on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863 and which LEGALLY freed all enslaved people in the country. No, it took until June 19, 1865 - fully two and a half years later, for the message (and the enforcement) to finally arrive in Texas with a group of Union soldiers. For although all enslaved people in the United States were deemed free in 1863, the Confederacy did not recognize that authority, and continued to enslave and exploit Black people until forced to do otherwise by armed Federal troops.
So to celebrate Juneteenth, you can certainly look up recipes and plan a party. But I think it's equally important to recognize incredible contributions enslaved people made to our food system, and for Americans of all backgrounds to reckon with the truth that much of our modern foods are the direct result of violence and exploitation.
At last night's Food History Happy Hour, viewer Cathy brought up that we learn a lot in school about the contributions of White immigrants, but not so much about the contributions of enslaved people. And that struck me as both very true and very sad. Because so much of what is considered American food is intimately connected to both West Africa and the enslaved people brought here against their wills. People who experienced incredible hardship still had the perseverance and fortitude not only to hold on to their foodways on the horrific voyage across the Atlantic, but to persist in keeping those foodways in the United States. Not all of the foods listed below came from West Africa, but all are a direct result of the enslavement of West Africans.
Editor's note: The Food Historian is an Amazon affiliate. Any purchases you make through the book links below will help support blog posts like this!
As an aside, I recently learned that the United States was active in the slave trade for decades after it was made illegal, and that the primary point of destination for American slave traders after kidnapping mostly children from West Africa was the sugar plantations of Cuba. This illegal trade continued until the 1860s.
- Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Syndey Mintz
- Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott
- Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart
- The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage by John Harris
- And a Bottle of Rum, Revised and Updated: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis
- Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History by Frederick H. Smith
Jack Daniels Whisky
- Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas by Judith A. Carney
- Rice: a Savor the South cookbook by Michael Twitty
- Carolina Gold Rice: The Ebb and Flow History of a Lowcountry Cash Crop by Richard Schulze
Black Eyed Peas
- "Are black-eyed peas really peas?" Library of Congress
Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup
- "The Most Famous Soup You've Never Heard Of," Foodizen podcast with Tonya Hopkins
- "The Surprising Origin of Fried Chicken" by Adrian Miller for BBC Travel
- Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams-Forson
Macaroni and Cheese
- "Macaroni and Cheese at Monticello" by food historian Leni Sorensen
- The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas by Adrian Miller
- "From Thomas Jefferson to Kraft: A History of Macaroni and Cheese" recorded lecture by yours truly
The Food Historian blog is supported by patrons on Patreon! Patrons help keep blog posts like this one free and available to the public. Join us for awesome members-only content like free digitized cookbooks from my personal collection, e-newsletter, and even snail mail from time to time! Don't like Patreon? Join with an annual membership below, or just leave a tip! Join on Patreon or with an annual membership by June 30, 2020 and get a picnic history packet mailed to your door!