Culinary Historian Michael Twitty Brings "Kosher Soul" Feast to Swarthmore

by Nehmat Kaur '16
Michael Twitty
"Students, staff, and faculty enjoyed the opportunity to interact with Mr. Twitty (above) in classrooms, kitchens and around the dinner table," says Professor of History Allison Dorsey, who organized his visit.

Renowned culinary historian and community scholar Michael Twitty visited Swarthmore through the Mellon Tri-College Creative Residencies Program, hosting a week of events on campus earlier this month. His residency comprised two lectures about America's history and its foodways and issues faced by communities of color in accessing high quality food. As a final concluding event, Twitty prepared a special dinner for Tri-Co students with the help of volunteers from the College community.

Twitty, who describes himself as a "historic interpreter interested in African, African American, African Diaspora, Southern, and Jewish foodways," is also a food blogger who runs unique blogs like Afroculinaria, through which he demonstrates the process of analyzing African-based food systems through history, recreating dishes from the past when possible.

Twitty's first lecture, "Dining from a Haunted Plate," directly dealt with the material featured in Afroculinaria and his identity as a culinary historian. The lecture took its audience on a culinary history tour of the knowledge, culture, language, and skills that went into creating southern and American cuisine.  

Students cooking
From left, Rose Pozos-Brewer '15, Emmy Talian '15, and Lara Cohen help prepare a Kosher Soul Feast in the kitchen at Swarthmore Presbytarian Church.

"I believe his work in culinary history reinforced the knowledge found in articles and monographs produced by the traditional scholars students have been studying this term," says Professor of History Allison Dorsey, who organized Twitty's visit.

The second event - a panel discussion between Twitty and Tina Johnson, a local food activist and founder of the Chester Co-op - gave students and other members of the community a chance to see Twitty as a community activist side and culinary historian. Held in Bond Hall and titled "Food Justice, Social Justice, Culinary Justice: Food Issues in Communities of Color from the Outside Looking In," the panel addressed questions related to foodways in communities of color, specifically issues related to the problems communities of color face in accessing high quality food in the United States. 

The concluding event of Twitty's visit was a special dinner he prepared for Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr College students. Many community members volunteered to help with the preparation of the "Kosher Soul Feast," taking shifts to squeeze limes, cut watermelons, man the stoves, and wash dishes to do their part in the daylong task of preparing the meal.

"Having Michael Twitty here was a great experience," says College Librarian Peggy Seiden, who volunteered at the dinner. "It was wonderful to be in the kitchen with staff, students, and faculty. We were really living the experience of community."

"Students, staff and faculty enjoyed the opportunity to interact with Mr. Twitty in classrooms, kitchens, and around the dinner table," Dorsey adds. "The sense of welcome, the delicious meals, and the chance to engage with all sectors of the community revealed the power of food as an important site for connection and for study."