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The Many Souls of African American Food

Category : Book Review

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Source: Restaurant-ing through history

I was immediately intrigued by the somewhat clunky but memorable title
of the essay collection edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach: Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama. The phrasing comes from a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois, who wrote: "The deceitful pork chop must be dethroned in the South and yield a part of its sway to vegetables, fruits, and fish." Du Bois' statement points to the ambivalence that many African-Americans seem to have historically felt - and to some extent may still feel - towards their traditional food and the practices that surround it.

On one hand, it's the familiar fare of comfort, crucial for individual and communal experiences. This aspect is often celebrated, both in real life and in media representations, from films like Soul Food to innumerable commercial and community cookbooks. On the other hand, certain dishes and attitudes about food can be criticized, within the multi-layered and diverse African American communities in the US, as a set of habits too closely connected with slavery (as Du Bois and later, from a different standpoint, the Black Panthers did), or unhealthy, or as the uncomfortable result of poverty and ignorance, or not refined enough. Jensen Wallach's own essay in the book focuses on how...  Read More

Fabio Parasecoli


Fabio Parasecoli is associate professor and director of Food Studies initiatives at the New School in New York City. His work explores the intersections among food, media, and politics. His current research focuses on food in movies, the history of Italian food, and on the socio-political aspects of geographical indications. He studied East Asian cultures and political science in Rome, Naples and Beijing, where he specialized in contemporary Chinese history. After covering Middle and Far Eastern political issues, he worked for many years as the U.S. correspondent for Gambero Rosso, Italy's authoritative food and wine magazine. He regularly lectures for the Food and Wine MBA of the University of Bologna (Italy) and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Italy). Among his recent publications: Food Culture in Italy (2004), Bite Me! Food in Popular Culture (2008), and Al Dente: A History of Food in Italy (2014), now also available Italian. He is general editor with Peter Scholliers of a six-volume Cultural History of Food (2012).

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