When Twitty talks, we should listen

Michael W. Twitty is a noted culinary historian, although that term is woefully inadequate to describe his many projects: writing, researching, blogging, cooking, historical re-enactments, and teaching.

And don’t forget public speaking: He will present talks at two different events at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti on Oct. 7.

I know you may not be aware of who Mr. Twitty is, although my colleague Rose Russell wrote about his Koshersoul cuisine last spring in a story about foods for Easter and Passover that showcase both African-American and Jewish influences. And yes, I know that the hour’s schlep each way from Toledo is inconvenient on a weeknight.

But trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

At 5 p.m. that afternoon, Mr. Twitty will present Kosher/Soul? Black-Jewish Identity Cooking. Combining “cuisine and culture,” it will showcase a unique style of cooking and include samples of Mr. Twitty’s famous black-eyed pea hummus.

“Creator of a delightful — and maybe even a little dangerous — mixture he calls Koshersoul, (Mr.) Twitty challenges mainstream approaches to cooking and dining,” said Martin Shichtman, director of EMU’s Jewish Studies program, which is hosting the events. Mr. Shichtman said, in telling me about having scheduled Mr. Twitty’s appearances, that he is “wildly excited” about the presentations by someone so engaging and so insightful.

Koshersoul is not fusion, but rather allows dishes to retain their cultural identity even while seemingly disparate influences offer each other “mutual respect and friendship,” according to Mr. Twitty. One example is the hummus, with black-eyed peas being important both to African-Americans and to Sephardic Jews (those descended from the Jews who were banished from Spain in the late 15th century). Another is gumbo served with turnip green-stuffed matzah balls.

“Michael Twitty has gained international attention not only as a culinary historian but as a social critic as well,” Mr. Shichtman continued. “From his very remarkable position as an African-American, gay, Jewish observer of culinary culture, Twitty calls attention to how very important food is to our desire for social justice.”

To that end, Mr. Twitty’s other presentation at Eastern is entitled Culinary Justice: Defining a Theory of Gastronomic Sovereignty, and will address the right to have communities’ contributions to foodways, and to history, acknowledged.

Mr. Twitty advocates on behalf of people who have been “culinarily disenfranchised” through oppression. Those in power often take a group’s food and “correct it, revise it, update it, elevate it,” he said, but, in the end, don’t make it better. The food “loses its soul” when appropriated, Mr. Twitty said, which erases history, culture, and “the legacy of women,” who have been the primary cooks for generations while receiving no recognition.

With projects such as Afroculinaria, dedicated to studying the foods of the African diaspora, and The Cooking Gene, research into his own family history from slavery to freedom and from Africa to the southern United States, Mr. Twitty’s work is fascinating. And his enthusiasm for it is contagious.

As I said, you won’t want to miss his presentations. Trust me.

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