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  • Jingshu Helen Yao

Black Culinary Culture in Museums Around the World

By: Jingshu Helen Yao


February is Black History Month. As a member outside of this community, I looked into different approaches to learn about black histories and cultures. Food is often a window to look into the relationship within or between communities.

Soul Food. iStock.

In a paper where researcher Camille Bégin discussed the changes in writing about black food culture, Bégin pointed out that early culinary descriptions were used to reinforce stereotypical views and racialize African American communities. The image of black mammy cooking, a racial caricature of African American women, became a comfort for many during the great depression. This image is not an accurate representation of African American women and in some ways represents a negative stereotype. Regardless, with industrialization and social change, African American food has become a major part of cuisine in the southern United States.

Suya. flickr.

Though soul food is the most well-known representation of African American cuisine, black food culture goes far beyond that. The Museum of Food and Drinks (MOFAD) in New York City focused on the culinary history of African Americans when putting together the exhibition “African/American: Making the Nation's Table”. One of the exhibition’s highlights was the “Legacy Quilt”, a quilt that stands 14 feet tall, spans 30 feet wide, and contains 406 blocks, each devoted to an individual who contributed to African American cuisine. The Ebony Test Kitchen, which was located at the headquarters for Johnson Publishing Company, was used as the test kitchen for Ebony Magazine’s food column. MOFAD acquired the kitchen set and recreated it as a tribute to the innovation of Ebony Magazine, which was known for challenging stereotypes and contributing to the evolution of African American cuisine. In addition to these objects, “African/American: Making the Nation's Table” featured a unique taste testing experience. Shoebox lunch was the food migrants stored for their trip during the Great Migration, which was an evolutionary period in African American history. Their food symbolizes the establishment of African American communities across the United States and the African American identity.

MOFAD "African/American: Making the Nation's Table.” Colorline.

The global pandemic might have prevented us from traveling to exhibits and dining outside of our homes. However, there are other ways that we can learn about and appreciate black food culture. Dine Diaspora, an agency who introduces and expands the influence of African food culture around the world, has great resources on their website. 31 Days of Black Women in Food is an annual award by Dine Diaspora that celebrates the achievements of black women in the food and beverage industry. During the past 4 years, the organization has told different stories of hundreds of individuals through food. The nomination for 2021 award is currently in progress. Black stories and culture continue to endure through new culinary adventures.


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