Michael is proud of his heritage and he loves his job – is that such a crime?
Michael Twitty knows he’s in the minority when it comes to his identity. But as a food historian who specializes in Southern cooking, he knows his identities don’t exactly go hand in hand.
Read an excerpt from his recent Food52 essay below, where he discusses the intersectionality of blackness, gayness and faith as it pertains to food:
I’ve made the cooking of enslaved people my niche, bringing to life the experiences, skill sets, and knowledge bases of enslaved cooks who prepared food for themselves and their slaveholders on rural farms, plantations, and in urban residences.
At first glance, embracing my own gay identity seemed to be at odds with that niche: I often get asked how exactly queerness fits into my brand and the story I’m trying to tell about both the past and the present. There is a dialogue in the world of food about homophobia in the industry kitchen and little whispers about queerness and food—but what happens when you sit at the crossroads of gayness, Blackness, and faith and do this sort of work?
The history of homosexuality in the enslaved community is complicated stuff, and I’m just scratching the surface—but I’ve found that a person like me, without a question, existed in multiple places across the long life of American chattel slavery.
But it’s not just the social justice activism that comes into the kitchen with me: It’s a pride in how the food should taste, look, feel, and what it communicates. Gay men have been culturally written out of history because we are often branded as individuals who will not contribute to the reproductive flow of the generations and therefore have little or no investment in normative tradition. And yet, so many of my colleagues in living history, historic preservation, and food history are very dedicated gay men with a mission to honor our collective heritage.
I embrace the idea that honing certain gay sensibilities helps me to appreciate the aesthetics of the Southern meal. I take a special pride in golden shimmering custard pies and chicken fried to perfection, in okra soup that will restore your faith in okra. Our food is spicy, saucy, sensual, and gendered and I’m standing on the seesaw in the middle trying to play on those themes and keep things in balance.
You can read Michael’s full essay on Food52 here.