Updated: Sep 5
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What is "Black food?"
4 Color Books, a publishing imprint helmed by award-winning chef, author, and publisher Bryant Terry, recently released Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. Part cookbook, part essay collection, Black Food combines contributions from chefs, writers, and creatives to explore the culinary history of the African diaspora. The result is a gorgeous and moving project, at once expansive and personal. "Black Food," Terry writes in the introduction, "is a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora."
The approach taken by Black Food reflects an expanding definition of Blackness, particularly in the United States, which I'll focus on here.
In her acclaimed book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, which has been adapted for a show on Netflix, culinary historian and one of Time Magazine's 2021 Most Influential People of the Year, Dr. Jessica B. Harris writes, "the designation ‘black American’ no longer means up from the South. It can also encompass folks from the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the African continent itself.”
A growing awareness of how African diaspora communities in the United States, the Americas, and beyond, share historical ties underpins this conception of what it means to be Black in the US.
In the realm of food, a similar expansion of our conception of Black food, or food of the African diaspora, has long been underway. In the context of the United States, the term "Black food" historically led people to immediately think of Soul Food - of the celebratory, nostalgic, and survival foods of Black Southerners introduced to the United States more broadly through the Great Migration. Soul Food became a widely used term for Black Southern foodways during the Civil Rights Era as the Black pride movement and a growing assertion of Black culture coalesced around food.
Almost as soon as Soul Food became a widely used moniker, Black peoples in the United States sought to challenge, expand, and redefine conceptions of Black foodways.
Activists and Civil Rights leaders sought to underscore health-conscious, vegetarian, and vegan diets and interpretations of Soul Food to reject stereotypes of "unhealthy" Black dietary practices and promote food sovereignty in a society where Black communities were (and still are) subject to food apartheid.
In the decades since, food writers, chefs, and historians have also expanded our collective consciousness surrounding Black food, emphasizing through their work that Black peoples in the United States have historically worked in and intersected with every aspect of the food system from agricultural production to fine dining. These perspectives challenge us to consider that the culinary practices of Black peoples in the US also reflect that diverse history.
Black food is at once expansive and deeply personal
In recent years, events like the BayHaven Food and Wine Festival and The Family Reunion have showcased an expansive view of Black food, resplendent with global influences and techniques and approaches that span the culinary spectrum.
I've attended both events for multiple years as press (my tickets were free) and have reveled in the array of Black food perspectives represented. They include winemakers and distillers, farmers and makers, caterers, and chefs representing everything from catering operations to fine dining and everything in between. Over multiple days attendees are treated to a rare display of the diverse nature of Black foodways as they manifest in the US.
Take a peek at the BayHaven Food and Wine Festival in the video below.
Video Description: Scenes from Anela's time at the BayHaven Food and Wine Festival, including interviews with Greg Williams and Jamie Barnes, co-founders of What The Fries restaurant in Charlotte, NC.
I've also seen an expanded definition of Black food circulate on social media. As our discourse about Black food begins to change, so do the conversations and projects about Black food in the digital space. When asked for their definitions, my digital community responded with an emphasis on the diversity, history, and deeply personal nature of Black foodways. See a few of their responses below (shared with permission).
There remains no single definition of "Black food." The term can encompass foods of the African diaspora and take on a global character. Depending on our distinct positionality it can also take on a very localized or broader national view tied to the history of the United States.
But, no matter how you define it, "Black food" so often takes on an intimate and historical nature, a reflection of its importance to Black peoples and the centrality of food to identity for so many communities.
Explore Black Food & Excellence In The US
Headed to Charlotte, North Carolina?
Don't miss out on the BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, an incredible multi-day event celebrating and uplifting Black chefs, makers, mixologists, and more held in October.
If you can't make the festival don't worry. One of my favorite Black-owned restaurants in the nation, Leah and Louise, is also in Charlotte.
Checking out DC, MD, or VA?
Use this guide to find the best Black-owned and Black-led restaurants in DC, MD, and VA.
While you're in the area, catch the The Family Reunion, a Black food and wine festival held at a Black-owned luxury resort in Middleburg, VA in August.
And if luxury is your thing, don't miss The Ivy, an incredible Black-owned luxury boutique hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. It also has a top-notch restaurant on site that you don't want to miss!
Explore Black food, history, and excellence in Arkansas! The state is home to two of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in the country.
Spend some time in Nashville and go deep on Black food and more! From spirits to music Nashville, TN is a great spot to spend a Black af weekend.
Here's how you can actually support Black creatives!
To learn more about Black food, check out the below
Black in the Garden - 'Conversations WILL be had,' at the intersection of Black culture and horticulture, on a range of topics that directly impact Black families and communities and our relationship with Mother Earth.
Afros and Knives - An award-winning interview series featuring Black women working and leading in food and beverage, food media, food science, food justice, agriculture, food tech, and hospitality.
Black Desserts Podcast - Black Desserts is a limited series podcast hosted by Thérèse Nelson focusing on the life and work of Black pastry chefs.
Black and Highly Flavored - SoulPhoodies Tamara Celeste and Derek Kirk shine a light on the need-to-know Black movers and shakers of our food and beverage industry—from writers and historians, to small business owners and chef-activists.
Setting The Table: Explore African American history and foodways through this incredible podcast hosted by Deb Freeman.