Phil Lueck 
Member since Apr 3, 2016


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Re: “Gullah cuisine, genetics, and Michael Twitty's beef with Sean Brock

After reading this poorly conceived, poorly researched, poorly reasoned and poorly written (not to mention poorly edited; despite the author’s grand profession of his editing bona fides at the beginning of the piece, there are at least 10 glaring grammatical and word choice errors that wouldn’t pass muster with an editor worth his or her salt) diatribe/hit piece, it’s hard to know where to begin in criticizing it.

I’ll start here: portraying Michael Twitty as some kind of histrionic, overdramatic snake-oil salesman just waiting for a fainting couch when he is criticized is deeply unfair and inaccurate, at best a flawed reading of his scholarship in Southern foodways and at worst a purposeful misrepresentation. Yes, Twitty puts a lot of stock in DNA results, but at no point does he suggest that DNA equals destiny; in fact, it is a starting place for researching your family history, not an endpoint, and Twitty has used that information to painstakingly trace his own family history, which is difficult, slow work, especially for those who descended from the enslaved. His writing is tough and uncompromising, yes, but it’s also a lot more nuanced than most other writing around the subject.

And speaking of histrionic, the author’s comparison of Twitty’s belief in DNA research to the National Socialists (that’s the Nazis, folks, even though he cravenly tries to walk it back a bit) is cowardly, and considering Twitty’s conversion to Judaism, deeply inappropriate.

But it all comes back to this: Yes, it’s important that the African and African-American food story be told, but it damn sure also matters who tells it. The history of Southern cuisine, which Charleston has turned into a multi-multi-million dollar industry catering to a high-end tourist clientele, is inextricably tied to the history of the African American hands that made the food for the White mouths that ate it.

The descendants of those cooks are conspicuously absent in the telling of the story of Southern cuisine, and THAT’S the crux of Twitty’s argument. There might not be a “cooking gene” but there is a long line of cooks in African American families who have had that spirit, and those recipes, passed down from hand to hand and generation to generation. But those voices aren’t heard, and more to the point, those hands aren’t making the food, or getting much of a slice of the money, that flows into Charleston and other cities that are seeking that tourist trade.

And that, Chris, is what cultural appropriation is all about. And I get that there are programs in the schools that are helping students, especially African American students, learn about cooking, and that’s good, but it’s essentially a rain check. There are great chefs of color NOW who can’t get a foothold in Charleston for whatever reason — lack of access to venture capital, lack of notice in the media, lack of connections or lack of networking opportunities. And as much as you want to point to the future, this is a problem that has to be dealt with in the present, and no, it’s not easy. But it’s necessary. And that’s why we need people like Michael Twitty.

26 of 32 people like this.
Posted by Phil Lueck on April 3, 2016 at 3:17 AM
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