Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Photo of Chef Elle Simone Scott, culinarian and food stylist for America's Test Kitchen and author of Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings.
How We Think of Food in America and What We Don’t Know: Getting to the Roots of Food & Family Recipes

What is American food? Where do treasured family recipes actually come from? Our food sources — what we eat, who makes it, and the family history behind them — frequently have origins that have been rendered invisible. While we may associate food with the experience of American culture, we rarely take the time to move through the nuances and complexities of food as it intersects within this nation’s narrative.

"America is the melting pot, and that might be true, but whether people accept this melting pot from a culinary perspective is actually very different," says Chef Elle Simone Scott, a culinarian and food stylist for America's Test Kitchen as well as author of Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings. A self-identified queer Black woman, a proud native of Detroit, and her family’s matriarch, Chef Elle asks, “Who even has the option to cook the way they'd like to cook? Does everyone in the country have access to the same basic ingredients to keep our bodies healthy?” 

This all begs the questions: Who does food nourish, and whose culture is doing the labor and nourishing? Which culture is receiving economic gain and credit for all that satiates us? Who can even cook healthy foods? Che Elle and I spoke about this nation's peculiar and complicated roots through a gastronomical lens and unpacked the misbelief that all American cuisines are "authentic." 

What society considers "traditional" American recipes is a political choice, designed to benefit the few: "The very fiber of American food is rooted in indentured servitude, immigrant influence," Chef Elle says, examining the history of those great American cookbooks and referencing the work of one of her colleagues: The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin.

“Although white housewives authored the cookbooks, Black women, “the help,” created all the recipes in them. America has a very distorted past as it relates to food originality and credit,” she explains.

The American culinary experience has historically engaged in appropriation and erasure, as demonstrated by the experience of Black-American and Chinese American cuisines.

"At a certain time in history, there would've been no white people cooking food on their own. This is especially true within the context of human chattel slavery in America, but it also carried over into the early, mid, and almost late 19th century, right?" says Chef Elle. "You still have 'the help' coming in." 

"It's probably the most recent documented, indentured service related to food specifically. That was like the last piece of slave system in America: someone to care for the children, someone to cook the food...so we use recipes that these [American] housewives were sharing at their dinner parties — recipes that were not created by them or cooked by them. They were cooked by the help. These same white women, who did not produce one single recipe, wrote the cookbooks." 

“People don’t really realize that the impact of these same patriarchal, capitalistic behaviors roll right into the American kitchen. Even the kitchen hierarchy system that is based on the French kitchen brigade was created for men to participate in,” says Elle.

Injustices come in many forms. For many, some of these forms are difficult to recognize, including today. Who benefits from the colors, flavors, smells, and textures of the cuisines that give soul to the very experience of being Black and Brown in America? 

Chef Elle goes on to share a poignant example with fried chicken. “In Tennessee, Prince's was the original, hot fried chicken, owned by a Black man [James Thornton Prince], a Black family. You can now count at least six to ten hot chicken restaurants that are white-owned. KFC is doing it!” 

Cultural silencing through cuisine is present in the immigrant Diaspora as well, with Chinese food an example of this complex and peculiar narrative. “There's no American Chinese food without Chinese food, right?" Chef Elle says, pointing out how some types of food are considered "real" while newer cuisines, foods that changed as communities adapted to a new country, are somehow seen as "less" authentic.

"Chinese American food had long been considered simply as “takeout,” and it diminishes the Chinese American experience in this country and what they had to do to establish themselves in this country. You can apply that same principle to every culture here,” she says.

Chef Elle envisions a better food culture, one that is guided by appreciation rather than diminishment or appropriation. She argues that there must be a paradigm shift —  one that starts with recognizing food and ingredients as a resource that everyone and every community should have access to. 

“At America's Test Kitchen, one of the ways in which we approach creating recipes is considering how accessible the ingredients are to the home cook. We are trying to bridge this divide between how we teach the home cook, how to cook these wonderful recipes from these different regions of the world, but also teach them how to do so with ingredients that are accessible at their local market. There's that piece: like, how do you do that without diluting the authenticity of the recipe? This is the kind of conversation we have about cultural appropriation versus appreciation when it comes to creating and executing recipes.”

To picture this better world she describes, I ask her what a great food culture can look like three decades from now. She immediately lights up. "I see 2052 as a time where food will be presented with its historical context [and] without question or explanation," she says, hoping for both food knowledge and pleasure. 

"Enjoying jollof rice without having to talk about the history of rice and just — 'This is Nigerian or Ghanian jollof rice.' Just people enjoying food because of the ultimate importance of having world cuisine and food knowledge,” she says. “I see more women chefs at the helm of that.” 

To that end, Chef Elle founded SheChef Inc, an organization that supports and ushers Black women chefs into the food industry. “I see people having pride in their cuisine being explored in an authentic way, and what is really comforting is that we are actually already moving in that direction."

Chef Elle has hope for the future where communities are enjoying a cultural culinary experience —  without asking permission. “In the Black food community, we have these really interesting conversations about how you make your grits — with sugar or with salt and pepper and butter...we both are familiar with serving fried fish with spaghetti in the Midwest. It's a very common combination, and there are people who question the validity of it. No, you don't do that. You're not supposed to do that.” 

While listening to Chef Elle’s point here, I wondered what it would be like to just sit down in community, in my Black community, and enjoy a bowl of grits or a plate of spaghetti the way I like without explanation? 

“The future of food in America is marked by people engaging in the enjoyment of food simply because of the ultimate importance of having world cuisine and food knowledge,” she says. “People having pride in their cuisine being explored in an authentic way, in the complexity of food, will bring so much more real context to the cultural experience of being an American.”

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

S. Rae Peoples

S. Rae Peoples (she/her) is a dedicated mother, education administrator, social activist, and founder of Red Lotus Consulting, an inclusion, equity and justice service boutique. She is an Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion Education at Tufts University and sits on the Board of Directors for North Atlantic Books.

How We Think of Food in America and What We Don’t Know: Getting to the Roots of Food & Family Recipes

About

S. Rae Peoples

S. Rae Peoples (she/her) is a dedicated mother, education administrator, social activist, and founder of Red Lotus Consulting, an inclusion, equity and justice service boutique. She is an Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion Education at Tufts University and sits on the Board of Directors for North Atlantic Books.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Photo of Chef Elle Simone Scott, culinarian and food stylist for America's Test Kitchen and author of Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings.

What is American food? Where do treasured family recipes actually come from? Our food sources — what we eat, who makes it, and the family history behind them — frequently have origins that have been rendered invisible. While we may associate food with the experience of American culture, we rarely take the time to move through the nuances and complexities of food as it intersects within this nation’s narrative.

"America is the melting pot, and that might be true, but whether people accept this melting pot from a culinary perspective is actually very different," says Chef Elle Simone Scott, a culinarian and food stylist for America's Test Kitchen as well as author of Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings. A self-identified queer Black woman, a proud native of Detroit, and her family’s matriarch, Chef Elle asks, “Who even has the option to cook the way they'd like to cook? Does everyone in the country have access to the same basic ingredients to keep our bodies healthy?” 

This all begs the questions: Who does food nourish, and whose culture is doing the labor and nourishing? Which culture is receiving economic gain and credit for all that satiates us? Who can even cook healthy foods? Che Elle and I spoke about this nation's peculiar and complicated roots through a gastronomical lens and unpacked the misbelief that all American cuisines are "authentic." 

What society considers "traditional" American recipes is a political choice, designed to benefit the few: "The very fiber of American food is rooted in indentured servitude, immigrant influence," Chef Elle says, examining the history of those great American cookbooks and referencing the work of one of her colleagues: The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin.

“Although white housewives authored the cookbooks, Black women, “the help,” created all the recipes in them. America has a very distorted past as it relates to food originality and credit,” she explains.

The American culinary experience has historically engaged in appropriation and erasure, as demonstrated by the experience of Black-American and Chinese American cuisines.

"At a certain time in history, there would've been no white people cooking food on their own. This is especially true within the context of human chattel slavery in America, but it also carried over into the early, mid, and almost late 19th century, right?" says Chef Elle. "You still have 'the help' coming in." 

"It's probably the most recent documented, indentured service related to food specifically. That was like the last piece of slave system in America: someone to care for the children, someone to cook the food...so we use recipes that these [American] housewives were sharing at their dinner parties — recipes that were not created by them or cooked by them. They were cooked by the help. These same white women, who did not produce one single recipe, wrote the cookbooks." 

“People don’t really realize that the impact of these same patriarchal, capitalistic behaviors roll right into the American kitchen. Even the kitchen hierarchy system that is based on the French kitchen brigade was created for men to participate in,” says Elle.

Injustices come in many forms. For many, some of these forms are difficult to recognize, including today. Who benefits from the colors, flavors, smells, and textures of the cuisines that give soul to the very experience of being Black and Brown in America? 

Chef Elle goes on to share a poignant example with fried chicken. “In Tennessee, Prince's was the original, hot fried chicken, owned by a Black man [James Thornton Prince], a Black family. You can now count at least six to ten hot chicken restaurants that are white-owned. KFC is doing it!” 

Cultural silencing through cuisine is present in the immigrant Diaspora as well, with Chinese food an example of this complex and peculiar narrative. “There's no American Chinese food without Chinese food, right?" Chef Elle says, pointing out how some types of food are considered "real" while newer cuisines, foods that changed as communities adapted to a new country, are somehow seen as "less" authentic.

"Chinese American food had long been considered simply as “takeout,” and it diminishes the Chinese American experience in this country and what they had to do to establish themselves in this country. You can apply that same principle to every culture here,” she says.

Chef Elle envisions a better food culture, one that is guided by appreciation rather than diminishment or appropriation. She argues that there must be a paradigm shift —  one that starts with recognizing food and ingredients as a resource that everyone and every community should have access to. 

“At America's Test Kitchen, one of the ways in which we approach creating recipes is considering how accessible the ingredients are to the home cook. We are trying to bridge this divide between how we teach the home cook, how to cook these wonderful recipes from these different regions of the world, but also teach them how to do so with ingredients that are accessible at their local market. There's that piece: like, how do you do that without diluting the authenticity of the recipe? This is the kind of conversation we have about cultural appropriation versus appreciation when it comes to creating and executing recipes.”

To picture this better world she describes, I ask her what a great food culture can look like three decades from now. She immediately lights up. "I see 2052 as a time where food will be presented with its historical context [and] without question or explanation," she says, hoping for both food knowledge and pleasure. 

"Enjoying jollof rice without having to talk about the history of rice and just — 'This is Nigerian or Ghanian jollof rice.' Just people enjoying food because of the ultimate importance of having world cuisine and food knowledge,” she says. “I see more women chefs at the helm of that.” 

To that end, Chef Elle founded SheChef Inc, an organization that supports and ushers Black women chefs into the food industry. “I see people having pride in their cuisine being explored in an authentic way, and what is really comforting is that we are actually already moving in that direction."

Chef Elle has hope for the future where communities are enjoying a cultural culinary experience —  without asking permission. “In the Black food community, we have these really interesting conversations about how you make your grits — with sugar or with salt and pepper and butter...we both are familiar with serving fried fish with spaghetti in the Midwest. It's a very common combination, and there are people who question the validity of it. No, you don't do that. You're not supposed to do that.” 

While listening to Chef Elle’s point here, I wondered what it would be like to just sit down in community, in my Black community, and enjoy a bowl of grits or a plate of spaghetti the way I like without explanation? 

“The future of food in America is marked by people engaging in the enjoyment of food simply because of the ultimate importance of having world cuisine and food knowledge,” she says. “People having pride in their cuisine being explored in an authentic way, in the complexity of food, will bring so much more real context to the cultural experience of being an American.”

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

S. Rae Peoples

S. Rae Peoples (she/her) is a dedicated mother, education administrator, social activist, and founder of Red Lotus Consulting, an inclusion, equity and justice service boutique. She is an Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion Education at Tufts University and sits on the Board of Directors for North Atlantic Books.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Photo of Chef Elle Simone Scott, culinarian and food stylist for America's Test Kitchen and author of Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings.
How We Think of Food in America and What We Don’t Know: Getting to the Roots of Food & Family Recipes

What is American food? Where do treasured family recipes actually come from? Our food sources — what we eat, who makes it, and the family history behind them — frequently have origins that have been rendered invisible. While we may associate food with the experience of American culture, we rarely take the time to move through the nuances and complexities of food as it intersects within this nation’s narrative.

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About

S. Rae Peoples

S. Rae Peoples (she/her) is a dedicated mother, education administrator, social activist, and founder of Red Lotus Consulting, an inclusion, equity and justice service boutique. She is an Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion Education at Tufts University and sits on the Board of Directors for North Atlantic Books.

How We Think of Food in America and What We Don’t Know: Getting to the Roots of Food & Family Recipes

About

S. Rae Peoples

S. Rae Peoples (she/her) is a dedicated mother, education administrator, social activist, and founder of Red Lotus Consulting, an inclusion, equity and justice service boutique. She is an Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion Education at Tufts University and sits on the Board of Directors for North Atlantic Books.

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