Food, Community & Government

Tracing Ancestral Foodsteps

Michael W. Twitty

Lesson time 10:03 min

Michael gives an eye-opening overview of the migratory patterns that have given rise to contemporary Southern food. He shows how anyone can learn about their food history with one look inside their pantry.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Think About the Staples • Uncovering Food Trinities • Welcome Home


[MUSIC PLAYING] - If you've read "The Cooking Gene" or read stories about me, I use the term "food steps." And of course, that's a play on "footsteps." We need to recognize the migrational narratives that are part of all of our histories. These patterns of movement back and forth across the Atlantic-- Africa to America, America to Africa, the Caribbean to America-- those stories matter. And for me, you know, you talk about it. And it's like, OK. You talk about it. But when you actually say to someone, you know, when you were in Notting Hill or you were in Brixton in London and you went down to Electric Avenue, like Eddy Grant sang about, and you saw the okra and a-- Scotch bonnets and the bami and the coconut-- and immediately, you have a story of Caribbean migration to England and the persistence of these foods across hundreds of years of British engagement with the transatlantic nature of Black history. And in the same way, you go to Amsterdam. You see collard greens, where the Afro-Surinamese live. In the same way, you go to Harlem and see collard greens, also, from North Carolina brought up on a truck-- talking about the Great Migration. So these food steps, foods in place of the other markers that we use to tell stories about memory, about migration, about movement, help us really determine where people have been, what they've picked up, what matters to them, meaning, meaning. And so we put on these different layers as we go about moving across the globe and across the map. They tell stories about how we eat and where we've been. And that's so impactful because it shows change. [MUSIC PLAYING] If you want to trace your own food steps, this is where you should look. Think about the staples. Think-- I always ask people, what are the staples in your family diet? Now, some of y'all are going to roll out with pizza and something else. OK. Well, let's go back on that. For some people, that staple is corn-based or rice-based or yam-based or cassava-based, OK, bread-based. There's all these different options-- usually carbohydrates, right? And I realize that for some of you, you've changed. You've changed your lifestyle and your diet to fit something that might be better for your health or that vibes better with your lifestyle in a different-- in a not so traditional sense. And I respect that. But what I'm getting at is, what are those traditions that you come from, some of which you maintain, some of which you don't? And I think it's important-- this is important-- to document the things that we no longer do as well as the things that we do. So for me, it was looking at the staples-- for example, rice from my grandfather's family from South Carolina, corn and sweet potatoes from my Virginian-Alabama folks. It was looking at the fact that we always had certain ingredients in the pantry-- always scallions, always onions, always hot peppers, always lemons, you know, bouillon cubes, things th...

About the Instructor

Through years of unearthing his African American heritage, bestselling author of The Cooking Gene Michael W. Twitty discovered undeniable ties between his ancestors’ past and his own palate. Now he’s teaching how you can get a taste of your family history through food. Explore the migrations that informed the ingredients in your kitchen—then re-create the dishes that helped shape who you are.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Michael W. Twitty

James Beard Award–winning author of The Cooking Gene teaches how to trace your culinary roots through the food your ancestors ate.

Explore the Class
Sign Up