By: Donna Decaille Ms, RDN, LD
The Federation Celebrates Juneteenth from Farm to Table
This Freedom Day celebration we spotlight various ways African-Americans shaped America’s food scene from the seed to the table. Food is the glue that binds us together as a people and many of our dishes carry symbolic meaning. For us, food is a gesture of love and an edible piece of history about our shared experience of adversity and resilience. Since food and celebrations are inextricably tied, this Juneteenth we pay tribute to our farm families, cooks, and chefs that shaped American cuisine.
Our food is Soul Food, a term first used in 1964 during the rise of the Black pride movement that celebrated our contributions to American culture. The roots of soul food are tied to traditional African cuisine, which is based largely on green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, and legumes. Most of all, it is an example of the ingenuity and skill Black cooks and chefs displayed in creating distinctive cuisine with limited means. From the savor of collard greens to the creative takes on okra or candied yams, soul food is southern food. Soul food made its way North to the rest of the country by Blacks leaving the South during the Great Migration in the early to mid-20th century.
From Sharecroppers to Independent Farmers
After slavery was abolished, Black people who were fortunate enough to acquire land sought to move from sharecroppers to independent farmers. Cornelius Key, a third-generation farmer/rancher in South Georgia made the family transition in his generation. “ My daddy and granddaddy did not have the resources to purchase land so they were sharecroppers. They barely had any money left after they met all their obligations. I decided after watching them, I would buy my own land to farm!”
Self-made black farmers started diversifying away from growing cotton to producing food and focusing on local sales of fruits, vegetables, and livestock to feed themselves and their communities. Naturally, what they chose to grow was rooted in familiarity and tradition. It was a rigorous path making a living farming, and many families who wished to sell produce to consumer markets faced challenges by lack of resources and racism. Some were able to join and create cooperatives businesses to bypass discrimination. Farming is a rewarding challenge for all family farmers and for limited resource black farmers it’s even harder. By supporting black farmers today, we are ensuring that there will be viable farms in our community tomorrow, and that is something that we can all agree is important.
In the last decade, our communities have grown increasingly disconnected from who grows food, how it got to their plate, and whose land it was grown on. Food activists support that it is only through maintaining these conversations we will understand how food choices affect our health, economy, land, and communities.
Influencers of Cuisine in Every House
From house slaves, domestic help to cooks and chefs, African Americans worked hard and flourished in the kitchen with creativity, passion, and pride to nourish the nation. In the recent Netflix docuseries, “High on the Hog: How African-American Cuisine Transformed America,” chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces that food history. The series, based on the James Beard award-winning author Jessica B Harris’ research, shows that many dishes created out of a people of limited resources and food, still stand with our family traditions today. Greens seasoned with unwanted meat parts increased the flavor when meat protein was scarcely available, and working in the kitchen of the white house developing dishes such as macaroni and cheese, a dish at almost every American holiday table is our prideful contribution.
What to serve for Juneteenth?
"Red foods are among the dishes served for Juneteenth celebration- Red velvet cake, watermelon, jambalaya, and hibiscus tea. These are symbolic of the blood and resilience of enslaved people, a tradition traced back to Africa" States Chef/Doctor Kenneth Willhoite founder of the Atlanta Soul Food Museum. Join us in the celebration.