By Kayla Tucker – Managing Editor
Food writer and scholar Michael Twitty spoke Wednesday night at Fountain Street Church for the Diversity Lecture Series.
The monthly series is hosted by Grand Rapids Community College.
Twitty, 38, finds his passion in his family history, food and cultural history, political issues and educating others on these topics. He travels around the country visiting plantations and various historic sites, learning and educating others.
As a food writer, culinary historian, educator, and scholar, Twitty is also the creator of “Afroculinaria,” a blog devoted to the cultural history of African-American food. Twitty has appeared on “Bizarre Foods of America” and “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” His upcoming book titled, “The Cooking Gene,” connects food and family history and how it relates to Africa, America, slavery and freedom.
“When I was a little boy I hated being black,” Twitty said, who grew up just outside of Washington D.C. He explained how he felt as a kid when society portrayed black people as not good enough.
Everything changed when his family taught him more about his culture and heritage, and he began to see the value, especially in traditional cooking.
“My soul was saved by my food and my cuisine,” Twitty said.
Twitty encouraged the students in the room to go full force at what they believe in.
“If I had let other people’s opinion of me or their lack of interest in what I was doing get me down, I’d never be talking to you right now,” Twitty said.
Twitty presented a slideshow of photos of him at various plantations, cooking food in the historic setting, picking cotton and tobacco and acting out real-life scenarios that happened on a plantation between the enslaved and slave owners.
Twitty described his routine of presenting on plantations as an “act of war” and “challenging a narrative” to some southern people set in their pre-civil war ideas.
“This food is about power,” Twitty said in his presentation. He talked about how he picks cotton every other year, taking him 16 hours to pick 300 pounds of cotton. He listens to traditional songs slaves used to sing while working to really understand how it was.
Twitty didn’t leave out the issue that there is a high rate of hypertension and diabetes in the African-American community, yet traditional African food pre-slavery was low sugar, low meat, and low gluten. Twitty expressed concern on how Western culture has dramatically changed the health of African-Americans.
As a historian, Twitty advised the crowd interested in finding out about their heritage to make a plan and interview their parents and grandparents.
“Start with your people and branch out,” Twitty said, who interviewed family members and then went on to museums and DNA testing.
After the lecture, Twitty said he wants people to understand the power and authenticity food has, and how it connects people.
“You need to celebrate what you have in common, and not what divides you,” Twitty said. “Food has the power to bring people back together when other things divide them.”