The only problems are about scale and money. So, you know, the easy ones. But I’ve thought a lot about this. Cuisine as edutainment is an idea for the times. Hear me out:

So much of what makes up American cuisine can be understood through our country’s complicated history. Chefs Jerome Grant and Ashleigh Shanti know this history keenly as culinary experts on the influence of Black cooks on American food.


“The sky’s the limit. Just have a meal, have a meal with somebody. You get to understand so much more about them. It is such an intimate thing. And with Black food, it’s extremely important to showcase where it was all this time in history and what it contributed to history. It’s done so many great things to what America is now that it shouldn’t be overshadowed.”

I was recently in a conversation about the purpose and function of food. It’s fuel. Sometimes it feels like an obligation. But, really, food is about people, because it is universal. (A lot of things are universal, but this is the one where it shines through.) We minister with food, we laugh with food and, of course, we use it to find reasons to make dates with people we like.

Food is the ultimate social tool. A family-inherited thing for me. It’s difficult to separate whether you have good times with food, or if meals are why you have a good time.

I probably don’t have the most refined palate in the world, and the verb use of the word “plate” will probably always be weird. But there’s another option here. I can learn from food, just like that interview above wants to suggest.

Give me an engaging gastronomy tour guide, four or five tables, and tell them the tale of this meal. Every region, every culture, every dish, has an origin and impact. And the seasonings in your cabinet tastes so much better with context.

Think about the last meal you had. We had spaghetti last night. Easy, you think, it’s Italy.

You’re right, dear friend, but you are also mistaken. History traces pasta back to the Talmud, where it enters the written record in the 5th Century. There’s some considerable belief that the dried stuff came to Sicily via a North African invasion. Something like that might make the most geographical sense. The long thin forms started showing up a few hundred years later, and spaghetti factories became a thing in Italy in the 19th century, so it’s suddenly a mass produced product.

Soon after it came to the U.S., served al dente with a mild sauce.

But all of that is my summary of the Wikipedia summary of the Wikipedia entry. As such, it’s a bit abstract. There are no people in that telling. But the tale those people could tell us over a plate of noodles and gravy.

It wouldn’t all be about how the food got to us, today, but how we conceptualize food over time, too. Meals we often think of as staples today were sometimes foods of necessity for those on the wrong side of the economy. I think of every plate of barbecue, every countless soul food meal I’ve loved, even some of the novelty meals today which were originally just a means to give a little nutrition to underfed people in need. Of course, many of the meals we enjoy today are adaptations, fusion-based things and far more rich and indulgent than its predecessors. We should learn about that, too. (Cloves, bay, garlic were early spaghetti additives in the US, but oregano or basil came to us later.)

Tonight we had enchiladas. Wouldn’t an hour learning about the Aztecs with a table covered in tortillas and beans make for a fascinating evening?

This weekend we’re having low country boil — it comes from Frogmore Island, in South Carolina. That’s another delicious and educational evening, it was popularized by a man named Richard Gay, but it’s really a Gullah dish, and, thus, from Africa, with Spanish and French influence.

Now I just have to solve the problem of doing this at scale and value. And having some brilliant food historians to make it all work.

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