Before the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, I didn‘t own a single cookbook written by a Black author. In fact, I could probably only name two British Black chefs – Ainsley Harriot and Lorraine Pascale.
Growing up in Newcastle, where there was only one Black student in my whole year group, it was only too easy to ignore the history of Black people in the UK. It was easy to forget that the history of British food is one of violence and oppression – without sugar plantations, and the labour of the enslaved people who worked on them, we would not have our Victoria sponges and puddings, for example.
The mainstream media contributes to this whitewashing of food culture, with a spotlight on white chefs and cookbooks that alienate any foods with origins outside of Europe.
Black cookbooks are important, not just because they are full of brilliant recipes but because they are a reminder of who made, and continues to make, our country what it is today.
Here, I have curated a list of some of my favourite cookbooks written by Black chefs to inspire some change in your kitchen.
- Vegetable Kingdom
Bryant Terry‘s book is about “debunking the misconception that veganism is purely aspirational for food-insecure Black and brown communities.“ There is a tension between mainstream veganism and Blackness, which Terry faces head-on in both his life and his writing. Whole foods and healthy eating are undeniably tied up in class, race and wealth. This is a book which skillfully celebrates vegan food for what it encapsulates, not that it excludes.
Jubilee- where to start with it? Toni Tipton-Martin‘s collection of hundreds of cookbooks by African American authors formed the foundation for the Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, and the source material for the recipes in Jubilee. Produced by an all-Black creative team, and with qualities of a history book as well as a cookbook, Jubilee dispels many myths and stereotypes surrounding the history of Black food, and celebrates it in all its glory.
3. The Taste of Country Cooking
Edna Lewis, born in 1916, the granddaughter of an emancipated slave, is the
woman who made the case for Black Southern cooking as the foundation of our national cuisine. She is also the founder of the precursor to The Southern Foodways Alliance. She cooked for Eleanor Roosevelt, farmed pheasants and worked for the communist newspaper The Daily Worker. The Taste of Country Cooking tells the story of both Edna‘s life, and her community in Freetown, Virginia.
4. Zoe‘s Ghana Kitchen
Half-Irish, half-Ghanaian and having grown up in London, Zoe Adjonyoh is someone who isn‘t afraid of addressing the complexities of Black identity in
Britain. Her debut cookbook Zoe‘s Ghana Kitchen – after having been out of print for far too long – is finally available again. A mixture of Ghanaian dishes, and reinterpretations of Ghanaian dishes, this book is Zoe‘s portrayal of her own identity through food. She is also a panelist on this online discussion of Black British Food Stories hosted by the British Library.
Want even more great food writing?
Check out Whetstone Magazine, founded by
Stephen Satterfield and Melissa Shi, or For The Culture, a magazine celebrating Black women in food and wine.
Newsletters are also an increasingly popular place to find great food writing. One of my favourite newsletters which regularly highlighted the tension between food and equality is Vittles. I cannot recommend a subscription highly enough – Black Erasure in the British Food Industry by Melissa Thompson is a great place to start.
Header Image Credit: Smitten Kitchen