A Reading List For Learning About Anti-Black Racism and Food

Violence and injustice meet Black people in every sector of life; the food and cooking arenas are not exempt. Black people experience racism and exploitation on farms, in restaurants, and in grocery stores. This racism is systematic, ingrained in centuries of discrimination and disempowerment.

Black people also experience racism in food media; here, Epicurious is culpable on many levels. We are a majority-white staff with 25 years of problematic recipes and articles in our archive. We have failed to lift up, hire, and promote Black voices. We have changes to make, and we have begun to make those changes; the events of the last few days have shined a light on just how much work there is for us to do.

This week many people and publications have circulated reading lists that people—especially white people—can use to educate themselves on anti-Black racism in America. As part of the work we need to do to make Epicurious a truly inclusive publication, my colleagues and I are using these lists to educate ourselves on racism broadly. We also want to educate ourselves specifically about anti-Black racism in the food space, so we’ve sought out books that cover the intersection of race and food. A list of these books is below. At the end of the list, we’ve added some cookbooks we love by Black authors, in the hopes that you’ll add some of these to your shopping cart as well.—David Tamarkin, Digital Director

Chicken has been a low-cost food source and source of income for Black families from times of slavery to the present. Chicken imagery has also long been associated with racist interpretations of Black culture. Psyche A. Williams-Forson looks at the ways in which Black women define themselves, achieve self-reliance, and even subvert expectations of blackness using this particular food.

Michael Twitty won the 2018 James Beard Award for Book of the Year for this tome. Twitty is a lauded historian, and in addition to tracing the culinary history of Southern food, the book is also a memoir that digs into his own family history. At the core is a question, given Southern food’s place in American culinary history, of who ‘owns’ this cuisine and who has been given credit for it.

BUY IT: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, $16 at The Lit. Bar

Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century, by Kyla Wazana Tompkins

Author Kyla Wazana Tompkins studies the way that food is tied to race and class inequality, and also explores the very idea of appetite and its links to vice, virtue and an ever-expanding commodity culture.

BUY IT: Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century, $28 at The Lit. Bar

Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now by Naa Oyo A. Kwate

A historical account, reaching as far back as the 1800s, of restaurants that use racist themes, architecture, and logos as marketing schemes to invoke nostalgia for a historically racist nation.

BUY IT: Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now, $12 at The Lit. Bar

Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie

Hog and Hominy looks at soul food’s “relationship to people of African descent and their food within an Atlantic world context.” In particular, Opie studies the cuisine’s relationship to the concept of soul itself in the Black community.

BUY IT: Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, $18 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin

Toni Tipton-Martin has gathered one of the world’s largest private collections of cookbooks published by African American authors. In this book, she presents excerpts from150 of those books, charting a path of Black cooking from the time of an 1827 house servant’s manual to modern classics from Edna Lewis. Through it all, Tipton-Martin demonstrates the way that women of African descent have contributed to culinary culture, often creating masterpieces with meager means, without getting the credit they deserve.

BUY IT: The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbook
, $40 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, by Marcia Chatelain

Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, explores Black America’s relationship to fast food. While fast food is often characterized as representative of capitalism’s destructive impact on our food systems and the obesity epidemic, Chatelain shows how fast food franchises have also been a force of Black economic opportunity and political power.

BUY IT: Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, $26 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica B. Harris,

Harris, a legendary cookbook author and food historian, tracks the origins and development of African-American cuisine: from its journey over the Atlantic on slave ships, all the way through emancipation and the Civil Rights movement.

BUY IT: High on the Hog, $18 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

Other notable books in this category:

Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, by Adrian Miller, Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960 by Rebecca Sharpless, Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity by Doris Witt, Slave in A Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, by Maurice M. Manring

Books About Food Justice and Race

Black Food Geographies, by Ashanté M. Reese

Ashanté M. Reese uses ethnographic fieldwork in the historically black neighborhood of Deanwood, Washington D.C., to look at the way that corporations have determined food access in cities—often leaving Black neighborhoods with an unequal food supply. Reese also highlights how members of the community autonomously work around these injustices and shortcomings, and how working around failed systems such as these shapes Black life. Read her interview with Julia Turshen on Epicurious here.

BUY IT: Black Food Geographies, $23 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman

This book addresses the injustice of the current sustainable food movement, which urges the eating of fresh food produced by local farms, which low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have historically been deprived of. Authors Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman envision a socially-just food system that addresses healthful, environmental food options available to low-income communities of color.

BUY IT: Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, $35 at The Lit. Bar

Food Justice, by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi

Similarly, this book addresses the current effort to transform food systems from seed to table, and advocates for equitable systems of food production, transportation, distribution, and consumption.

BUY IT: Food Justice, $22 at Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery

Other notable books in this category: Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society by A. Breeze Harper, More Than Just Food by Garrett Broad

Cookbooks by Black Chefs

The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis

Lewis’s 1976 cookbook highlights the value of cooking with local, seasonal foods, a topic that would later be taken up by Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. Read culinary historian Jessica B. Harris’s tribute to Edna Lewis here and buy this essential cookbook, organized by season, to recreate the dishes Lewis grew up eating in a Virginia Piedmont farming community settled by freed slaves.

BUY IT: The Taste of Country Cooking, $24 at Cultured Books (Note: upon writing this, this book is temporarily out of stock.)

Vibration Cooking: or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor

“When I cook, I never measure or weigh anything,” writes Smart-Grosvenor. “I cook by vibration.” This famous book, which was first published around the time that the term ‘soul food’ gained traction, is part cookbook and part culinary memoir. Above all, the book demonstrates how food is a source of pride and validation of Black womanhood. Smart-Grosvenor recounts her early life at home in North Carolina, her time living in Europe, her life as a dancer, costume designer, and more. And she tells you how to cook all the food she ate along the way.

BUY IT: Vibration Cooking: or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, $22 at Cultured Books

Meals, Music, and Muses by Alexander Smalls

My colleague Lauren Joseph said of this cookbook in the Epicurious Spring Cookbook Roundup: “Smalls writes with simultaneous levity and reverence for his community, and with great knowledge about America’s culinary and musical roots. An opera singer and owner of Harlem’s jazz bar Minton’s and steakhouse The Cecil, Smalls has made it his life’s work to champion the artistic contributions of African Americans…Each chapter, beginning with Hoppin’ John Cakes and ending with Icebox Lemon Pie and Bourbon Chocolate Praline Truffles, is named after a different style of African American music. The third chapter ‘is all about gospel, gardens and greens,’ writes Smalls. ‘Gospel music is all about finding the good and praising it…these recipes are joyful vegetable-forward dishes that taste good and make you feel good.’”

BUY IT: Meals, Music, and Muses, $31 at Cultured Books

Mama Dip’s Kitchen by Mildred Council

Mildred Council, who was better known by her nickname Mama Dip, was the granddaughter of a slave and the chef and owner of Mama Dip’s Kitchen, a beloved institution in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Council passed away in 2018, but through her cookbook you can make many of the restaurant’s best dishes: chicken pie, country-style pork chops, fresh corn casserole, and pound cake, to name a few.

BUY IT: Mama Dip’s Kitchen by Mildred Council, $19 at Cultured Books

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes by Bryant Terry

In his introduction, Bryant Terry, the author of 2014’s popular cookbook Afro Vegan, describes bringing home fennel and dreaming about making a dish “through the lens of the African Diaspora.” Terry goes on to describe the result: a pan-seared bulb tossed with a mojo-inspired garlic and herb sauce and plantain chip crumbles. The description alone will make you want to skip to the index and find that fennel recipe, but don’t let that deter you from some of the other recipes, like the Smashed Peas and Creamy Cauliflower. —Lauren Joseph

BUY IT: Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes, $27 at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking by by Toni Tipton-Martin

“Jubilee celebrates African-American food in recipes from trained chefs and home cooks alike. The result: just like in her earlier James Beard Award-winning book, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, Tipton-Martin tells a story much larger than the small confines of ‘soul food’ we’ve written African American food into.” —Lauren Joseph

BUY IT: Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking, $31 at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way: Smokin’ Joe Butter Beans, Ol’ ‘Fuskie Fried Crab Rice, Sticky-Bush Blackberry Dumpling, and Other Sea Island Favorites by Sallie Ann Robinson

Sallie Ann Robinson offers recipes from her home: the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. She showcases the flavors of West African-influenced Gullah culture that are core to the cuisine of the region.

BUY IT: Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way, $20 at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

The Dooky Chase Cookbook, by Leah Chase

Chef Leah Chase offers Creole recipes from her renowned New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase, and also her home kitchen—as well as the recipes’ histories and origin stories.

BUY IT: The Dooky Chase Cookbook, $22 at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

SOUL: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes, by Todd Richard

In SOUL, Todd Richard plays with the boundaries of soul food; he provides recipes for things like Collard Greens with Ham Hocks, sure, but he also reinterprets many of the classic dishes of the genre (as when he uses those same collard greens in a ramen dish).

BUY IT: SOUL: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes, $31 at Cultured Books

The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, by Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant, the Red Rooster, takes on the legacy of its Harlem neighborhood: It aims to showcase the cuisine of Spanish, African, and Caribbean cultures that mingle in the historic place. His cookbook does the same, allowing you to experience the way these cultures work together in Black cuisine as you cook your way through the restaurant’s Jerk Bacon and Baked Beans and Ethiopian Spice-Crusted Lamb.

BUY IT: The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, $34 at Cultured Books

Other notable books in this category: Sylvia’s Soul Food, by Sylvia Woods, The Up South Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen, by Nicole A. Taylor, Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing, by Jerrelle Guy, Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul, by Lazarus Lynch, Cooking Solo, by Klancy Miller, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration, by Carla Hall

Originally Appeared on Epicurious