The lifelong friendship between Alpha Kappa Alpha members the late Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and their Delta Sigma Theta friend Nikki Giovanni was more than about words, it was a sisterhood that was often celebrated with food. There are references to food in almost every memoir, essay and poem written by Maya Angelou, who was also the author of two cookbooks. The same can be said for Toni Morrison. Short of writing cookbooks, Ms. Morrison knew how to center food, foodways and cooking in her stories in such a way to make them characters. And Nikki Giovanni has a long reputation for not only giving us beautiful affirmations via her verses such as “I am so hip even my errors are correct” but is also well-known for her dinner parties at the University of Virginia. Food scholar Leni Sorensen revelled after meeting culinary grand dame Edna Lewis at one of Nikki Giovanni’s dinners in Charlottesville.
These three women who are forever etched in our hearts and minds as art and wisdom and power taught us a lot about food.
Sometimes they taught us a thing or two about food that we already knew. For example, it doesn’t matter how many degrees or awards you possess, but rather who cooks the best as in the generations-old rivalry between black cooks that challenges who is best?
When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in 1993, Maya Angelou cooked a celebratory feast the following year to honor her and U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove featuring crowder peas, okra and a sirloin roast. She proved that food is love but also that you always take home with you in your pots and on your plates.
And there was that time Toni Morrison wrote an essay for the New York Times Summer Reading issue in 1973. “Cooking Out” captured black family reunions and southern life like many of us had experienced or at least heard about from our elders on porches and at funeral repasts.
The fish were already awake, the potatoes were sliced and simmering next to the onions, and this whole tribal effort to have a day-long fish-and-cookout at Turkeyfoot Lake in honor of the eldest member of the Alabama wing of the family was beginning to draw Mama’s and Aunt Millie’s lips together in annoyance. For one thing, the Blue Gums (the Akron group of the family) thought Uncle Green belonged to them more than to us because they were more his age and remembered Alabama the way he did long before the migration North had begun: the first day the general store down home sold light-bread; the farm of 88 acres when it was prosperous and could feed 17 people year round; and other family reunions which were never ever called cook-outs in spite of the fact that they roasted corn and skewered fish over pine-cone fires on days just like this one.
The two AKAs (Morrison and Angelou) and the Delta (Giovanni) represented the best of the American foodways. Morrison’s roots ran deep through Alabama and Georgia up to the Midwest in Ohio. Giovanni was born in southern Appalachia (Knoxville TN) and raised in Ohio. And Maya’s journey began up south in Midwestern St. Louis resumed in Stamps, Arkansas and up to San Francisco. That’s a lot of food influences, but they used each and every influence in their work.
And we are so glad that wherever they traveled they took home with them in their pots and on their plates.
Reposted from Fresh and Fried Hard. Check out more here: http://freshandfriedhard.com/
About Fresh and Fried Hard:
Fresh & Fried Hard is part metaphor and all truth. Do not stand behind a black woman in a fast food ordering line unless you have time. We’re the ones asking if the fries are fresh and telling you to fry those chicken wings hard. Our noses and tongues possess magical powers. We can smell and taste when something is not quite right with the recipe. Our ability to build communities, send folk to college, and keep the lights on with a few eggs, some flour and a hot stove is our hallmark. And no one does almost better than Jesus than spiritual mothers who can multiply fish filets, a few loaves of white bread and some spaghetti to raise money for the building fund or to help someone pay for a funeral.
This is just a blog. But it is my tribute to black women and food. It is about our power using food. It is about showing love with food.4