Planning a cookout to celebrate America’s birthday?
Bet you’ll be having corn on the cob, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, maybe even a chocolate cake, yum! Gotta have a bowl of guacamole, too, of course, for friends to snack on right away.
What a perfect menu for that celebration, because avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, corn and the chocolate for that cake are all-American.
But oops—not United States American.
Thank Mexico for tomatoes, corn and avocados. The Andes mountains of Chile and Peru for potatoes (no wonder they thrive in my Foothills garden!). And tropical southeast Mexico to the Amazon for the cacao trees that give us chocolate.
What else is on your menu for summer cookouts?
This time of year, lots of us are “eating local,” enjoying the bounty of the farmers’ market or our own gardens.
Being a plant geek (and a good eater), I love knowing where my favorite foods originally came from. And a lot of them—every single one mentioned hereafter—come from Africa.
Luscious, drippy Colorado cantaloupes aren’t quite in season yet, but I’ve been buying watermelons, trucked in from California (sometimes I make a whole meal of the ice-cold slices).
When I lived in milder climates, my garden always had a stand of okra and a patch of yams. Now I have to depend on the market for them, but I still laugh when I remember how fast okra pods can get away from a gardener—6 inches long as soon as you turn your back—and how prolific those plants are. As for yams, have you tried them sliced and brushed with olive oil and grilled? Delicious!
Fried or grilled chicken on the menu for your next cookout? It’s extra good with a side of plantains, done on the grill to bring out their sweetness.
Once the weather cools off, you’ll probably be planning a pot of chili to serve a crowd. Gotta love those big, meaty kidney beans! Black-eyed peas are great, too, although I don’t wait ’til New Year’s Day to make them.
Speaking of hearty fare, boy, do I love diner breakfasts! Eggs, any way you want ’em, and if it’s a true country diner, sweet, sticky “table syrup,” made from sorghum.
Maybe you’re one who prides yourself on eating good healthy stuff. What’s your favorite lentil recipe?
I’ve been adding spicy leaves of arugula to our salads for months; the plants just keep on self-sowing. And soon I’ll be thinking about cooking up a mess of mustard greens, one of my favorite foods of summer. The collards I love? I’ll wait a while. They’ll get sweeter after the weather turns cold.
Boy, too bad I’m out of onions. Don’t they make everything taste better?
Yep, I’ll bet a lot of us are “eating local.”
But if any of the foods I just mentioned are on your menu—well, sorry, but they’re not local.
Every single one of them, from chicken to cantaloupe to onions and everything mentioned in between, originated in Africa.
How those African foods—the ones we think of as “ours,” like fried chicken, scrambled eggs, watermelon and lots of other things—got here isn’t a pretty story.
It was slavery.
Some of the foods were brought along on the slave ships. Not too much, mind you; just enough to barely sustain life on the long ocean voyage. And some were imported later to feed slaves, for cheap, on the plantations. No way was Thomas Jefferson sharing his Sunday roast with his slaves at Monticello.
I suspect seeds were snuck aboard the slave ships, too. What would you do if you were about to be forcibly ripped from the homeland you knew and loved? I would’ve quick grabbed a few seeds to hide in my clothes, hair, any nook or cranny I could find. Even a single seed was hope for the future. Soul food, indeed. Nothing better than a taste of home.
“Eat local” takes on a whole different meaning when you think about where our favorite fare originally comes from.
Happy birthday, US of A! And yum and thank you, to people around the world. We’re a lot more connected than we realize.
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