Recipe for an Identity: Reclaiming an African Identity Through Southern Foodways

Beckelheimer, Teresa Dawn
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Recent trends in genealogical research attempt to connect people to an unknown heritage. Reclaiming a lost identity can prove futile for descendants of enslaved, indentured, and immigrant ancestors. Enslaved Africans from the transatlantic slave trade were stripped of their identity and forced to take on an American identity in a new land. The foundation of this new identity was built from memories of their African home and portrayed in various cultural elements contributing to southern culture and shaped by the African Diaspora in America. African-inspired southern cuisine is one cultural element that helps descendants of enslaved Africans reconnect to a lost past. This thesis will focus on the history of African foodways in southern America and how African American recipes were passed through generations orally and through cookbooks, influencing southern American cuisine. To help retain the memories of their home country and rebuild a new identity in America, enslaved Africans created recipes utilizing indigenous African and local southern ingredients, passing them to future generations. I will argue that African American foodways are a significant cultural influence of the African Diaspora in America, helping African Americans gain agency and identity in a sometimes-unforgiving country through jobs as domestic cooks, cookbook authors, and Civil Rights champions. Today, African Americans use southern foodways to help fill in the pieces of their muddled heritage while educating and inspiring future generations about their ancestral history.

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United States, Foodways, African identity, Heritage