During Food Tank’s event in partnership with Huston-Tillotson University, Oatly, and others, award-winning journalist and historian Toni Tipton-Martin discussed her efforts to dispel myths around African American culinary leaders throughout U.S. history.
“I started this work because of the myths that persisted in the larger society about who African American women had been in history,” Tipton-Martin says. “I didn’t want [my children] to just believe or know or think that the only contribution we made was physical labor.”
Tipton-Martin explains that when she began her research two decades ago, few acknowledged the contributions of African American chefs, mixologists, restaurateurs, and other culinary professionals. But as she read and acquired dozens of cookbooks, she was struck by the “incredible competencies revealed by these books.”
Tipton-Martin’s first book, The Jemima Code, serves as a bibliography of the books in her collection. It also puts the cookbooks in social contexts. “I wanted people to understand that these books did not just exist on shelves, but that people struggled within a system to become published,” she says.
Together with her second book, Jubilee, which compiles two centuries of recipes from African American chefs, readers are able to see is that “African Americans were performing at high levels in different ways throughout the food industry, not just in service to others.”
Reflecting on her years of work, Tipton Martin explains that social media can make her accomplishments appear “easy.” But, she says, “we really need to be aware that there’s a rigor and a discipline…that it took in order to get the material to the place that it is.”
Tipton-Martin also encourages young people and others transitioning to the field of food studies to “self advocate” and to start by getting their own information first.
“Stand in your authority,” Tipton-Martin says. “And the only way you can do that is to know what you know and to not try to be something that you’re not.”
To hear more about Tipton-Martin’s experience writing The Jemima Code and Jubilee, her plans for future projects, and the importance of knowing your own space listen below or find the episode on Apple Podcasts.
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