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When Black food meets Jewish food

TJI Pick
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Published: 16 August 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Koshersoul, a new book by culinary historian MICHAEL TWITTY encompasses an astounding variety of merged Black-Jewish experience.

On the very first page of Koshersoul, culinary historian Michael Twitty is already fighting to be understood. Twitty, whose 2017 memoir The Cooking Gene uses food to trace his ancestry from Africa through the slave trade and the American South, is asked by another writer if he’s traded writing about Black food for Jewish food. “No,” Twitty responds, “this is a book about a part of Black food that’s also Jewish food; this is a book about Jewish food that’s also Black food because it’s a book about Black people who are Jewish and Jewish people who are Black.”

That’s an intimidating task, and not just because many people refuse to acknowledge the possibility that someone can be fully Black and Jewish, as Twitty recounts in the book. Twitty’s pitch for the book encompasses an astounding variety of experiences: centuries-old Black Jewish lineages in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe; historic Black Jewish communities in Harlem, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and across the U.S.; Black people descended from white Jews; historical accounts of Black slaves who cooked for Jewish masters; modern Black people who have become Jews by choice; not to mention white Southern Jews, the Nation of Islam, and a litany of other overlapping culinary traditions and influences.

Koshersoul is a braid of food memoir, culinary history, recipes, confessions, and conversations with people. 

“We have enough cookbooks. What we don’t have is writing that shows the interplay between foods in people’s lives and especially the lives of people of colour. Black lives don’t just matter when they’re on asphalt or during a tragedy. They matter when they’re vibrant and lived and joyful,” Twitty says.

Image: Michael Twitty on the cover of Koshersoul

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