Monday, December 15, 2008

Hog And Hominy - Opie - Book Review

A few weeks ago, I received a review copy of "Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America" by Frederick Douglass Opie. The book is a comprehensive history of the origins of soul food beginning to pre-colonial Africa and spanning the African Diaspora to America and the Caribbean. In exchange for receipt of the review copy of the book, I have agreed to write a review on plezWorld.

Dr. Opie is associate professor of history and director of the African Diaspora Studies Program at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

plezWorld Review

In a word, the book is delicious. Even though, it reads like it was written by a college professor (which it was) who is defending his thesis, "Hog and Hominy" was an easy read and I found it difficult to put down. Being of African descent myself, I marvelled at how Opie easily wove a rich and informative tapestry that blended the foods the indigenous Africans consumed with the changes in diet upon their interaction with Europeans. This is a history book about cooking with a few recipes in it.

The creolization of Africans' diets went through a number of transformations: while on the African continent, when introduced to Native American, and after close exposure to the Europeans who enslaved them in America and in the Caribbean. One of the items in the book was how the slaves adapted their diet to the food that they found in America: replacing yams with sweet potatoes, the use of corn and corn meal, the introduction of pork products into their diet, and the continued ritualization of chicken with ties directly back to Africa.

Since I grew up in upstate New York from parents who were raised in the North Carolina, I often wondered how certain foods found their way onto our dinner table; foods that my white classmates had never experienced. "Hog and Hominy" also goes into great detail about the Great Migration of Blacks from the South to the North in the early 1900's and the second wave (that also included Blacks from the Caribbean) in the 1950's.

Midway through the book, I realized that the author's grandparents migrated and raised their family in my home town of North Tarrytown, New York. I happen to have known several of the author's kin while growing up since most of the Black folk in North Tarrytown lived in one area. Opie and I were even born in the same hospital!

Lastly, "Hog and Hominy" touches on the Black Power Movement and the campaign by a number of Black leaders to move away from soul food. It was a sobering look at how the effects of the Diaspora and slavery still affect many Blacks today through their diet.

plezWorld encourages you to visit Columbia University Press where you can purchase copies of the book.
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Description of "Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America" from Columbia University Press:
Frederick Opie's culinary history is an insightful portrait of the social and religious relationship between people of African descent and their cuisine. Beginning with the Atlantic slave trade and concluding with the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Opie composes a global history of African American foodways and the concept of soul itself, revealing soul food to be an amalgamation of West and Central African social and cultural influences as well as the adaptations blacks made to the conditions of slavery and freedom in the Americas.

Soul is the style of rural folk culture, embodying the essence of suffering, endurance, and survival. Soul food comprises dishes made from simple, inexpensive ingredients that remind black folk of their rural roots. Sampling from travel accounts, periodicals, government reports on food and diet, and interviews with more than thirty people born before 1945, Opie reconstructs an interrelated history of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula, the African slave trade, slavery in the Americas, the emergence of Jim Crow, the Great migration, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. His grassroots approach reveals the global origins of soul food, the forces that shaped its development, and the distinctive cultural collaborations that occurred among Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Americans throughout history.

Hog and Hominy traces the class- and race-inflected attitudes toward black folk's food in the African diaspora as it evolved in Brazil, the Caribbean, the American South, and such northern cities as Chicago and New York, mapping the complex cultural identity of African Americans as it developed through eating habits over hundreds of years.

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View or listen to Opie's discussion of "Hog and Hominy" at the Atlanta Forum Network

~ ~ Other Book Reviews ~ ~

Read the Columbia University Press review here.

Read the review here.

Read the review here.

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