African Eats

You're a homemaker weary of whipping up boring old chicken dishes every day for your family. Your culinary repertoire needs some variety, so you head to the library to check out some African, Mexican, and Asian cookbooks. There you come across the same astonishing information over and over again: Africa had no native cuisine before Europeans intruded. Most of the foods Africans consumed were discovered after the inroads of the slave trade. And diets vary wildly from country to country and have no links.

If you're former-housewife-turned-independent-scholar Diane M. Spivey, you think: How absurd! Then you set about countering those myths by writing your own meticulously researched book, a work that in Spivey's words "dispels the long-told lie that Africans have always been dirty, naked, human flesh-eating little (and big) black savages, picking their toes, waiting in darkness for Europe to show them where the groceries were." After fifteen years, many test recipes, and several trips abroad, the result is The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine, which traces the complex evolution and pervasive influence of African cuisine from eastern Ethiopia through Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and even North America.

"It's interesting to look at something as simple as food to get an idea of how people are perceived," Spivey says. What she discovered was that Africans had many more culinary, social, and cultural links with people around the world than any cookbook author had previously thought. But Spivey has created much more than just a cookbook. Nestled among the 422 pages of mouthwatering recipes for dishes that include brazen tomatoes, banana coconut pound cake, and tamarind duck, are amusing and enlightening anecdotes, such as the fact that the novel Black Beauty was once banned in South Africa.

Satisfying people's appetite for fascinating information and tasty food is all good and well, but the author's ultimate aim is to provide a different view of Africa. "Africa was a very, very well-endowed and well-fed continent before it was invaded, before it was colonized," Spivey explains. "At the present time it's experiencing difficulty in feeding its people. And the wealth of agricultural products that are indigenous to Africa is astounding. We really should be focusing on that fact: that they have many things they've given the world, and they can continue to do so."

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman