Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Can we cook our way to racial understanding?

When the brouhaha erupted over Paula Deen's use of racial language and images in court testimony earlier this summer, I swapped a tweet with a colleague: Wouldn't it be interesting if this led to a more open  discussion of race in America?

I wasn't alone in that hope, and author Adrian Miller has taken it a step further with an interesting proposal:

On, Miller, the author of the new book "Soul Food:  The Surprising Story an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time," has proposed the idea of interracial-cooking book clubs. The proposal is that people would cook from two books, one white and one black, and get together to share their experiences with that.

From his post: "Those of us hungry for a dialogue need not wait. Food is one of the easiest ways to bring people together, and Southern cuisine — with all of its diversity — gives us a great platform to have a racial reconciliation dialogue through food."

Miller's post offers four steps for how to do that, and a date, Aug. 28, in honor of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

Even if you don't do it, Miller has an interesting list of books that could be great pairing for discussion:

For home cooking, "The Deen Family Cookbook" by Paula Deen (2009) and "Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way," by Sallie Ann Robinson (2003).

For classic texts on rural Southern Cooking, "The Taste of Country Cooking" (1976) or "In Pursuit of Flavor" (1988), both by Edna Lewis, and "Cross Creek Cookery" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1942).

For a survey of overlapping cuisines, "The Welcome Table" by Jessica Harris (1995) and "Southern Memories" by Nathalie Dupree (1993) or "Classical Southern Cooking" by Damon Lee Fowler (2008).

For working-class Southern food, "The Soul of Southern Cooking" by Kathy Starr and "White Trash Cooking" by Ernest Mickler (1986).

For "those who like the greener things in life," "Vegan Soul Kitchen" by Bryant Terry (2009) and either "Butter Beans to Blackberries" by Ronnie Lundy (1999) or "The New Southern Garden Cookbook" by Sheri Castle (2011).

If you try the cooking dialogue, let me know how it goes. Adrian Miller and I both have new books from UNC Press, his "Soul Food" and my "Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook," and we're both speaking Sept. 21 in New Orleans, at the opening of the new culinary library of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. I can't wait -- Adrian always gives me something to think about.


Wiley Coyote said...

Until you can actually say the banned words in our lexicon in a discussion about race over cornbread, crowder peas, fried chicken and banana pudding, nothing will change.

Kathleen Purvis said...

Why would you need to say them, Wiley? Doesn't understanding include understanding why that kind of language is destructive?

Anonymous said...

Cause she said the soda cracker word,they say

Anonymous said...

Folks, lets get one thing straight. You CAN'T be a racist unless you are white.

Wiley Coyote said...

Because in an honest conversation, especially about race, people should be able to speak those words in the proper context of how they are and have been used in the past by Whites, Blacks, musicians, etc.

Otherwise, not soing so is just another politically correct waste of time.

Kathleen Purvis said...

That's a fair point, Wiley. Thank you for clarifying what you mean.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. I am a white guy, who happens to love, love, love Soul Food and Southern Cuisine. I think a frank discussion about race over some great food and a bottle of wine would be awesome and rewarding for all parties. I'd be happy to host or travel!

-Doug M

Anonymous said...

Reverse that statement and you would be correct.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind 11:49, I don't think I got the sarcasm of the original comment.

Anonymous said...

Liberals are always clamoring "for a more open discussion of race in America." I've always wondered, what does that actually mean?

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:17.

Well, considering the typical Liberal Guilt Over Just About Everything, I'd say it's an invitation for verbal abuse.

In the most PC manner possible, of course.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole Paula Deen affair is a bit ridiculous.

After all, you go to work for one of the biggest redneck celebrities on the planet and her brother, BUBBA..

So, what would you expect?

I'm sure the "N-word" gets tossed around quite liberally in that crowd.

But probably not as much as if you worked for nearly any "rap" star.

But, of course, we all know that it's only racist when a white person says it.

Because ONLY the white person has the "power".

Unless your boss happens to be a rapper...

Wiley Coyote said...


I can assure you there is no sarcasm in my comments.

It's a valid point of view related to the topic.

I agree 100% with Kathleen that any talk is good but over a good meal is even better.

Progress on any topic has to start somewhere but if you want "an honest conversation" about race, you have to be 100% honest, even if that includes language some find offensive - even though the context is NOT offensive.

Anonymous said...

Sarcasm was not the right word. I just misunderstood what you wrote. I agree with your comments 100%. Honest conversations are hard to have when everyone is so PC.

Bruce Hamlett said...

If you are white, would you walk up to a black person that you don't know and ask them whether they would be willing to talk candidly to you about why n***** is so offensive to them? I don't think you would.

On the other hand, if you are white, would you walk up to a black friend of yours and ask them the same question? Hopefully, you would be willing to do that. It is impossible to start a serious dialogue with someone that you do not have a relationship with. There is not honesty in that conversation. It gets back to that old saying that no one cares what you know until they know that you care.

Similarly, as a man, I would not walk up to a strange woman and ask her whether she would be offended if I called her a b****. I could ask that same question of a woman who was a friend of mine without worrying about the potential ramifications.

Why is that so hard for people to understand?

Anonymous said...

Where is Joe Martin when we need him? (Sadly, I already know the answer.)

Adrian DeVore said...

I haven't always agreed with you, Kathleen regarding foodways, but interracial cooking clubs would be a great start towards broader understanding among people from different racial groups.

Here's a suggestion, you and Adrian Miller should get together and write an article about racially diverse cooking clubs as an extension of this blog post.