Getting What We Need Ourselves: How Food Has Shaped African American Life

Rowman & Littlefield. Jun. 2019. 272p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442253902. $36. COOKING
Emphasizing the diversity of African Americans and their palates, Wallach (history, Univ. of North Texas; How America Eats) explores the African roots and historical routes of black food traditions. Conceptualizing her subject as a web, the author traces intersecting experiences, memories, and cultural interactions expressed in the aromas, tastes, and textures of African American foodways, skillfully separating that eclectic and ever-expanding fare from “soul food.” Chapters move from transatlantic exchanges in the slave trade to the politics of the 1960s black freedom struggles. Treating the politics of food ingrained in hunger and plenty, Wallach deftly intertwines intellectual and culinary history in tracing black peoples’ struggles first to make sure they had enough to eat before fussing over what they ate or how to prepare or serve it. Wallach’s lively, innovative, engaging, and carefully researched overview of black culinary traditions and their ever-expanding food options reaches far beyond kitchens and dinner tables to demand a place for itself wherever discussions of African American cultural affinities arise.
VERDICT A must-read for all seriously interested in concepts of black identities and the significance of food in shaping those concepts.

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