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The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  7,297 ratings  ·  822 reviews
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes listeners to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins ...more
ebook, 480 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Amistad
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 ·  7,297 ratings  ·  822 reviews

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Petra X is emotionally in a 14.5 year old state
Finally a review, of sorts. 10 Star book! The author is gay, black, white, Jewish and a historian and a writer, an amazing writer. With all that background, was hoping for a book that was really out of the ordinary and I got it.

The author, from a black Christian family in the deep South decided at 6 he was Jewish. Nearly 20 years later he became an Orthodox Jew as well as a food historian and a lecturer and cook on a plantation to tour groups who wanted to see not only the where and what of sla
Brown Girl Reading
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nonfiction lovers
My rating for this book is actually 3,5 stars. The Cooking Gene was quite the challenge for me and for the ladies I buddy read it with. The Cooking Gene is an exploration of African-American culinary history in the south, slavery, and genealogy. I wasn't read for the way the book was laid out. I was expecting something a bit more linear than what I got, which was a jumpy, hard to stay on tract reading project. There were some key elements missing to make the reading experience better - maps, glo ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
I heard Michael Twitty speak on a panel a few years ago, at an event on interpreting African-American history today. Twitty, a gay black Jewish man who passionately talked about culinary history, sparked my interest. He is well known for cooking meals on plantations in the American South using only the cookware and food that was available to slaves. I was thrilled to find out that he would be publishing a book, and eagerly awaited its publication. I was not disappointed.

"The Cooking Gene" is a m
Monica **can't read fast enough**
Unfortunately, The Cooking Gene was a bust for me. I think that I was expecting a reading experience from Twitty that he wasn't really promising in the synopsis. I may have read more into what the book would be about than the premise really is. I thought that I was going to get a book that pretty thoroughly explored the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community. How food played and still plays a part in how many of us show affection and appreciation for one another th ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I have been wanting to read this book for quite a while, and the summer Reading Envy Picnic challenge helped push me into it.

"This taste in my mouth is the flavor of black folks taking their country back."

Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian who has taken a deep look at southern cuisine through many lenses, but always coming back to his identity as a black (but not only black), gay, Jewish man. He is known to some because of a piece he wrote a few years ago, An Open Letter to Paula Deen, b
Oct 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a troubling book is many ways.

Needless to say the subject of slavery itself is a difficult one. While Twitty frames his entire book in terms of himself and his family/ancestors, it's not hard to extrapolate to the larger picture. If you didn't already know how brutal/inhumane/unacceptable/etc. slavery was, there's enough here to drive it home for you.

But of course the focus is supposed to be African American culinary history and I have a hard time seeing how this book does justice to t
I think it’s most fitting to begin at this book’s end: “It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten.” In The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty helps us rediscover a vast and influential culinary tradition that black Americans have created throughout our time on this continent.

Some people are sangers, not singers. Some people cook, and others, like my father says, can burn: Twitty is clearly in the latter group. As someone who only burns water (but washes a mean dish), I wasn’t sure
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been following Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria, ever since I heard an interview with him on local Washington, DC radio a few years ago. He is a really interesting guy--and just reading his recipes will make you hungry!

A basic premise of the book is that black Americans need to "reclaim" southern cuisine. I don't really have a dog in that fight (which seems to be mostly in culinary circles anyway), I just like to eat the food! I'm white, but I've always assumed that Southern food belonged to ev
Dec 03, 2017 added it
"My mouth had been watering to read Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South ever since I learned about it from reading Twitty’s blog, Afroculinaria, where he often writes about the intersections between history, racial politics, social justice, and food. The idea of Twitty, a black male culinary authority – who also identifies as Jewish and gay – investigating and writing about “African American History in the Old South” had me an ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.

My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club-reads
Didn't finish. Too disjointed and I couldn't stay awake long enough at any stretch to make this a worthwhile use of my time. May have been a function of a hectic schedule, though I think some editing was in order. ...more
Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale.
Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slav
A recommendation from a Book Riot pal and it was a good one! Twitty is black, queer, and Jewish, and he's also a culinary historian with a research and personal interest in the history of food and meals in the south. Twitty narrates, making this more enjoyable to listen to for me than I suspect it would have been reading. It's technical at times and very rooted in research; even when we learn about Twitty's own personal history, it's quite removed and impersonal, which is done purposefully to ma ...more
Beth Cato
Apr 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful, emotional, thought-provoking book. Mr. Twitty wrote a work that in an autobiography of himself and his known family, and so much more. It's about genealogy, and the ugliness of slavery, and food--food, being more than sustenance, but a source of stories, history, culture, and soul. This is a read that will linger with me for a very long time. ...more
**30 Books in 30 Days**
Book 11/30

I'm feeling like a dick on this one, but I didn't have the reading experience I was hoping for with such glowing reviews. I didn't hate it, or even dislike it, but I didn't really like it all that much either. I had two main problems here. The first may or may not have been exacerbated by the second, but as of right now, I have no way of knowing.

Before I get to my issues, this book is chock full of history, memoir, and food rethought. That part of it, the subjec
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Listened to this as an audiobook, and at the risk of sounding like a first grader, it was a great audiobook because Twitty was a compelling narrator and mainly because it was long. Like other reviewers have pointed out, it’s a little disjointed at times, and the beginning and end veer into unnecessarily florid NPR-style territory. Some people probably loved that but I was like ?? Is this the guy who wrote the article about going to Ghana in Bon Appetit in 2018 ?? I remember that article not taki ...more
Renée | Book Girl Magic
‪The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty took me places I wasn’t expecting to go! Like, y’all don’t understand. I LIVED in Charleston, SC (while in college) for 2.5 years and yet still learned so much about it from this book.

In the middle of the book, I thought to myself....I’ve never been so excited to read a chapter in my life. Learning about the Gullah-Geechee’s of Charleston, SC and how they came to be. I’ve always been fascinated when it came to the language and how peeps born and raised in
Esther Espeland
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ahhhh so GOOD! Culinary history, autobiography, genealogy all with lovely witty prose!! If you love food writing this one is for you! I loved how twitty brings his queerness and his Jewishness into his writing about Black food- especially enjoyed his chapter on Jewish southern food (corresponding recipe for west African brisket), and his gay lil quips interspersed here n there. Especially right now, when we all (right??) feel so stagnant in the present, this book is a powerful lesson on introspe ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I heard about this book on a podcast (Bite, I think?) and it sounded fascinating and educational so I picked it up and started reading it pretty quickly. The book turned out to be both what I thought it was along with something different, and I learned a lot while reading it.

The premise of the book is simple enough - a black man wants to learn more about his family history via the food they eat, along with how that has been affected by social, political, and economic issues throughout the last f
I went into this read thinking that this would be a book that focused solely on cooking. Instead, it's so much more: a history text curated along the lines of enslaved African American foodways, a culinary history text examining the economics of the Old South, and an incredible examination of the author's connection to his family and his ancestors, and how he's driven to explore that connection in relation to the first two strata.

It's a lot, is what this book is.

And it took me a long time to re
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: genealogy
Magnificent read! In many ways it was not an easy read but the layers are thought provoking, at times jarring. The topics covered by Michael Twitty can each command special series in themselves - Ancestry DNA related groups and communities, food as a conduit of cultural norms and so forth. I have read historical cookery writers such as Fannie Farmer and Mrs. Beeton, but this goes way behind the scope of their coverage. I look forward to more from this writer and applaud him in the degree and dep ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
thoughts coming shortly
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a really remarkable book. Identity, history, diaspora and food, all mixed together into one text, just like they are mixed into one human being. Definitely recommend.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book satisfies on so many levels...a memoir with recipes and American history and genealogy.

An exploration of the history of African American cuisine via one man's investigations into his enslaved ancestors. Memoirs are usually compulsively readable, even if grim; despite appearances this is too broad in scope to be a memoir, and it's certainly not quick reading. Twitty makes some attempts to justify the book's messy structure, and he's right that the subject, particularly the genealogical focus, is by nature disjointed and complex; this still wants for a refined introduction, a strong ...more
This book is exactly as good as everyone says it is. It's a brilliant work of narrative nonfiction that makes history wonderous, moving, and visceral. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in food history, American history, or narrative approaches to the telling of history. ...more
Conor Ahern
Really enjoyed this history of the South, the roots of American and African American cooking, and memoir of sorts from a queer, Black chef who is apparently located in the DC area. It's a very interesting and unflinching take on cultural adaption, appropriation, syncretism, and family history. ...more
Jun 12, 2019 added it
Shelves: land-food
admittedly skipped some chapters but others (adam in the garden, crossroads, sankofa) were so magic and alive...definitely helped me think more abt food and crisscrossing ancestries and reconnecting to homeland. hopefully one day i'll get to see michael twitty talk or cook but for now i'll reread all his things ...more
Debbie Notkin
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary book. Twitty manages to combine his love of the South and Southern food, his deep personal and ancestral feelings about slavery, his (Jewish) religious faith, his search for his genetic lineage, and more into a compelling, emotional, complex, sensual narrative.

He certainly added to my understanding of culinary history, especially in the American south and Africa, but also in northern Europe and elsewhere. He gave me a whole new slant on what the transition of southern ec
Kristen Blount
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
I learned so much honest American history reading this, as well enjoying the personal journey the author took into reclaiming and understanding his legacies. If food is love, this book is Twitty's love letter to his ancestors. ...more
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Michael W. Twitty is a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian, and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. He is also a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests in ...more

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It's the time of year for soups, sautees, and stories! If you're looking for a palate cleansing non-fiction to listen to, this roundup has memoirs...
26 likes · 4 comments
“So much was lost—names, faces, ages, ethnic identities—that African Americans must do what no other ethnic group writ large must do: take a completely shattered vessel and piece it together,” 4 likes
“Food, racism, power, and justice are linked. What I’m trying to do is dismantle culinary nutritional imperialism and gastronomic white supremacy with one cup of zobo made from hibiscus, one bowl of millet salad with groundnuts and dark green vegetables, and one piece of injera at a time. The next wave of human rights abuse is in the form of nutrition injustice” 3 likes
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