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Michael Twitty to speak about building community through faith, identity and culture
Michael Twitty and book cover

Culinary historian Michael Twitty will be cooking up a storm — of food and ideas — on Jan. 27 when he appears at noon in the Robert W. Woodruff Library’s Jones Room. The event will feature food tastings inspired by his award-winning book “Koshersoul” and conclude with a book-signing. 

Speaking as part of the Identity, Inclusion and Sense of Belonging Series, Twitty will be in conversation with Miriam Udel, Judith London Evans Director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies and associate professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture. Sponsors include Emory’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.

Food, says Twitty, “is how we understand who we’ve been and why, and possibly get a hint of where we’re going.” He blogs about it through “Afroculinaria,” and he is the author of four books, including “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” (2018; winner of the James Beard Award for best writing and book of the year) and “Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew” (2022).

At this year’s National Jewish Book Awards, “Koshersoul” was recently named the Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year. As the press release noted, the book “explores the con­nec­tions between the Jew­ish and African dias­po­ras through food, mak­ing a case that the links between the cui­sine and iden­ti­ty of the two com­mu­ni­ties form a deep con­nec­tive tis­sue.”

Twitty first emerged in 2010 with his blog; he also worked with the D. Landreth Seed Company to compile the African American Collection of heirloom seeds for the company’s 225th anniversary. The collection features plants integral to African American survival and independence. 

In 2011, Twitty launched the Cooking Gene Project and the Southern Discomfort Tour, which — as the Washington Post noted — saw him crisscrossing the South “from Maryland to Texas and back again, visiting dozens of restored plantations where he has cooked and lectured, immersed himself in old records and met with other culinary professionals, black, white and Native American.” In all, he logged nearly 4,500 miles, in the process advocating that organic, local and sustainable food in Southern communities — especially that produced by farmers of color — be supported. 

On that tour, Twitty picked cotton, chopped wood, worked in rice fields and cooked for audiences in plantation kitchens while dressed as an enslaved person would have been in order to recreate what his ancestors had to endure. He picked cotton for 16 hours, the equivalent of an enslaved African's day of work, ingesting only water and a hoe cake to sustain him. As he told a reporter: “You don’t know s*** about Southern cuisine or slavery until you’ve actually spent 16 hours in the fields sweating, running away from poisonous snakes, and getting your hands cut up by cotton. Then you find out what a hoe cake really meant.” 

Twitty — who identifies as gay, Southern, Black, Irish, and Jewish — powerfully wrote in “The Forward” a week after the August 2017 Unite the Right rally and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Virginia: “That white supremacists have regained lost ground on the American landscape is a forgone conclusion for many, but for me it’s deadly and it’s personal. … By defying convention I have refused to disappear, to become conveniently erased because a monoculture has no room for people like me. That monoculture is not America. America is the only place on earth where I’m possible.”

In 2015, the TED organization chose Twitty as one of its Class of 2016 international fellows, praising the Cooking Gene Project for combining history, genealogy, politics and economics. Twitty is the only fellow whose work relates to food; he delivered the talk titled “Gastronomy and the Social Justice Reality of Food.” He also can be found on MasterClass, teaching the course “Tracing Your Roots Through Food.”

Register to be part of the in-person event or the virtual event.

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