• The Cooking Gene

  • A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
  • By: Michael W. Twitty
  • Narrated by: Michael W. Twitty
  • Length: 15 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (264 ratings)
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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 He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and black-owned organic farms in Georgia.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)

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What listeners say about The Cooking Gene

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

65 people found this helpful

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Fascinating!!

Wow. So much history packed into this book. I need to listen again to comprehend it all. Also will be purchasing the paper version... too many references at the end, that audio doesn’t do justice to. More than five stars for this book.
Superb!!!

14 people found this 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.

9 people found this 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!

6 people found this helpful

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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.

14 people found this helpful

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Beautifully Written

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

4 people found this helpful

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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.

43 people found this helpful

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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 !

7 people found this helpful

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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

5 people found this helpful

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An impressive memoir and historical narrative told through the medium of food

The best way to look at this book is seeing it as a memoir that highlights his personal story, that of his family (including those he never met but whose lives he was connected with through story) and a story of a people. This is a style that other memoirs I loved are written in, but he makes it truly unique by using the medium of food to explore his about past, part of the African American experience in the south and how their influence had often been ignored or whitewashed over, both in the culinary world and in general. He thus creates a deeply personal masterpiece. While it can be a bit dense in stories and material, and I am not crazy about the structure of the book, he was very effective in telling his story and illustrating why his story was so important to tell. I look forward to trying the recipes he included as well.

1 person found this helpful