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episode 47: Jennifer Jensen Wallach, "What We Need Ourselves: How Food has Shaped African American Life" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019)


In this this interview, Dr. Carrie Tippen talks with Jennifer Jensen Wallach about the her book Getting What We Need Ourselves: How Food has Shaped African American Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). The book covers a wide chronology and geography from the continent of Africa pre-Transatlantic slave trade to lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Era to haute cuisine of Harlem in the present. Wallach’s wide-ranging history demonstrates that there is not one story of African American foodways. Instead, as Wallach writes, “The history of black food traditions can be most accurately conceptualized as a web of ongoing conversations, debates, and reinventions rather than as a single, uninterrupted line leading directly back to the African continent.” In each chapter, Wallach contextualizes and complicates key moments of the story of African American foodways to emphasize the multiplicity of meanings that food may have and the “cultural compromises” that people of color have had to make throughout American history. Wallach calls for historians and students of food culture to accept a difficult lesson: “there are often multiple plausible theories for how certain recipes and techniques were created,” and so we must be content to leave these multiple origin stories to stand side by side, resisting the temptation to simplify.

Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature.  Her new book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Food and Foodways, American Studies, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society.




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