Origins of the African American Diet The Aftereffects of Slavery

diversity: the variety of cultural traditions The roots of the diversity of African-American cuisine may be traced back within a larger culture to 1619, when the first African slaves were sold in the New World. In a quest to build new cities in America, Europeans actively transported Africans and West Indians (people from the West Indies) to the new land. The West Indies (in the Caribbean Sea) was part of the slave route to America. Because the West Indians' skin color was similar to that of Africans, they were not treated any differently. As a result, some West Indian food traditions are similar to those of African Americans.

It is not surprising that African-American food has a distinctive culinary heritage with diverse flavors, as it includes traditions drawn from the African continent, the West Indies, and from North America. While the European nations were busy establishing new societies, they did not realize that the African and West Indian slaves who worked for them brought their own vibrant and and rich cultureā€”a culture that would withstand and adapt to the harsh centuries of slavery.

Food historian Karen Hess writes about the struggle of African Americans to maintain some of their original culture through food. "The only thing that Africans brought with them [from Africa] was their memories." Slave traders attempted to craft culturally sensitive rations for the Africans by including yams, rice, corn, plantains, coconuts, and scraps of meat in the slaves' provisions.

Southern slaves established their own cooking culture using foods that were similar to foods that were part of their African and West Indian heritages, and many popular foods in the African-American diet are directly associated with foods in Africa. For instance, the African yam is similar to the American sweet potato. White rice is also popular because it was a major part of the diet in West Africa. African Americans infuse plain rice dishes with their own savory ingredients (popular rice dishes include gumbo and "hoppin' John," a dish made with rice, black-eyed peas, and salt pork or bacon).

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