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What to listen to, read and watch about the connection between Black cooking and Juneteenth

June 16, finally recognized as a federal holiday under President Joe Biden in 2021, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. His name dates back to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger of Galveston, Texas, issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming that according to the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free.”

RELATED: How to (not) make Juneteenth, from freedom panties to horrible video game cosmetics

For decades, food and drink have been intertwined through the celebration of June 16th. As such, much can be learned about the holiday — as well as the culinary traditions of Black Americans — by using the food as a lens. This weekend, here’s a guide to what to listen, read, and watch to better understand the intersection between Black Foodways and liberation.

Read: “Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for June 16th and Black Celebrations”

This stunning new cookbook from Nicole Taylor is the first-ever cookbook published to focus specifically on June 16th. It’s inspired by Taylor’s decades of experience observing the holiday season, when “all-day barbecues with artful salads, rich dessert spreads and raised glasses of ‘red drink’ are essential.”

Taylor’s interpretation of these traditions has resulted in recipes like peach jam and molasses-glazed chicken thighs, Afro custards and southern potato salad. “Watermelon and Red Birds” also features a resource list to guide readers to BIPOC proprietary hot sauces, jams, condiments and ingredients.

Watch: “High on the Hog: How African American Food Changed America”

In the episode titled Freedom from the Netflix series High on the Hog: How African American Food Transformed America, host Stephen Satterfield meets with Eugene Thomas, a descendant of enslaved people freed on June 16, and they share a piece of this red velvet cake. Thomas explains why there is a special focus on red dishes and ingredients.

“It was a memory in many ways,” said Thomas. “Of the blood spilled before emancipation, of all those who came before us, who didn’t have a chance to taste the freedom we are about to taste.”

The entire episode is emotional, informative, and especially poignant as companies seek to commercialize the holiday.

Listen to: “A Taste Of Freedom” by NPR’s Code Switch

With that in mind, NPR’s Code Switch released an amazing conversation between correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates and food historian Rafia Zafar, in which the pair discuss the connection between black food culture and emancipation, as well as what it means for megacorporations like Amazon and Nike to take the June 16 annual company vacation to explain. As host Gene Demby put it, these companies have “spotty track records of work and compensation.”

“As Juneteenth got bigger, Gene, I started wondering if it was being diluted by its popularity,” Bates said. “For example, if everyone likes it – everyone – does it just lose its original meaning?”

As more Americans of all backgrounds want to commemorate and engage with June 16, this episode is a helpful guide to real conversations to do so respectfully.


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