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Publisher's Summary

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 of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.

Twitty travels from the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields to tell of the struggles his family faced and how food enabled his ancestors' survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and black-owned organic farms in Georgia. As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the South's past.

Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep - the power of food to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

©2017 Michael W. Twitty (P)2018 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way.... An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike." (Kirkus, Starred Review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • V R
  • Massapequa, NY United States
  • 08-07-18

Amazing, interesting culinary history

I've never read (listened?) to a book like this. Mr Twitty weaves history, food, and family stories together in such a compelling narrative, I loved it. And of course it makes sense, that the way of cooking and traditions would come with the slaves, but I never stop and think exactly how that happened, and this book paints such a vivid picture of exactly how we ended up with our beloved southern comfort style food. There were definitely a number of passages where I was crying, listening in detail to how a slave was put on an auction block, and families being ripped apart. Basically, I loved this book, and you should read it/listen to it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anne
  • Durham, NC
  • 07-01-18

Important to listen to

This book is undoubtedly important, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have its flaws. That said, I unreservedly recommended listening to it.

The flaws, in my opinion,could have been mitigated if the author had made the sentiments in the Afterword part of the introduction instead. The tsunami of information is overwhelming - partly because of the volume of it, but partly because it is not organized in a conventional way. The book at first seems to be academic, but then sidesteps into the personal, and that is difficult to manage as a listener. In the Afterword, Twitty explains his approach as a "patchwork" of academic, personal, impressionistic. That makes sense! But listeners, and, perhaps, readers, would have been better served to have understood that from the beginning. Call me a literal thinker, but presenting so much complex objective information with so much subjective emotions is a wild ride.

I respect what Twitty has done and there is a case to be made that this was the only way to do it. I only maintain that it would make listening less challenging if one understood the terms from the beginning. The information he offers and his interpretation of Southern cuisine and its influences are, I think, nothing short of revelatory and I hope it will change the way we think about food in the "Southern tradition."

I rated the performance as merely good because he is not a talented narrator. I understand that he might have felt he was the only one to narrated his own story, he is not easy to listen to. Unexpected pauses and many mispronunciations were wearing. But it is a great and important book and deserves a wide audience.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Finding your roots through your belly

As someone who’s also drawn to ancestry, it’s intuitive that you are preceded by countless humans. Because Twitty’s family tree is so culturally and colorfully varied, those numbers are powerfully illustrated. The food is an added bonus to that story!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Beautifully Written

I loved this genealogical study. I loved the stories of the history of African American cuisine. Bravo!!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I wish this was required reading for everyone!

Would you listen to The Cooking Gene again? Why?

Yes

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Cooking Gene?

The stories of what happened to individual slaves and the descriptions of the work slaves were required to do were so powerful. The story of the black woman whose slave holder and father of her children sold one of their twins to punish her for "stealing" eggs to feed their children will stay with me forever.

Any additional comments?

It was so interesting to hear the part sugar played in slavery.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Informative

I encourage anyone interested in this book to read the last chapter first. This is not a history of southern food or the account of slavery on southern cooking but a combination of these and a personal narrative of the authors research into his history and the impact of these subjects. It’s worth a lesson or read but Kay be different than you expect on first reading the title and blurb.

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<br /><br />EXCELLENT

This is a rare subject. i thoroughly loved this read. it took me back to my maternal roots of South Carolina. My mother and grandmother were very good cooks. I was raised in NYC and everyone wanted to know why i cooked with such a southern flare! This book gives the answer and much more!!! These are some powerful words on our cooking heritage, past and present! READ THIS BOOK. It was like going back to sweet home and being able to talk To the ancestors about the way we cook and eat what we do. You will love it!!! Thank you Michael !

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70% Feelings, 30% History

I was looking for a book on the history of black American southern cooking. I was expecting discomfort because of the horrible history of slavery, but it's actually a book about a 21st century guy learning about the history, saying a snippet of it, and then taking 70% of the book to poetically explain how this makes him feel about his place in the narrative. While I respect everyone's right to discover themselves, that isn't exactly a history or documentary about food history. I didn't come here for subjective feelings about how much the author feels obligated to like or not like chitterlings. If someone is interested in a more emotional review of this with a bit of history sprinkled in, then you'll love it, but I couldn't get past chapter three.

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A must read

I saw this book on townsends YouTube channel and immediately purchased.

This book does not disappoint, between the authors personal narrative of their family history the history of food items of the south and Africa and place history has with slavery. I hope the author continues writing similar books as I am now a huge fan