As a culinary historian who has spent the past 40-plus years exploring and documenting the continent of Africa, Jessica Harris probably knows more than anyone about the foodways of the African diaspora.
She has 12 cookbooks under her belt, including 2018’s “Sweet Home Cafe,” whose inspired recipes are served in the cafeteria in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. She’s also a museum consultant.
The Queens, N.Y. native co-founded the Southern Food Alliance, which studies and documents the foodways of the American South, and she was lead curator for the “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” exhibit at the Museum of Food and Drink in New York City. She was an adviser to the Heinz History Center’s “From Slavery to Freedom” exhibit in 2012. And Harris is also a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation.
The meal, she says, is the glue that holds families together. And it’s not just about gathering in the kitchen or dining room. The table can be the hall where the church supper is held, the room where mourners gather for a funeral repast, even the teeny-tiny cocktail table at a night club.
“It’s where we come together and start to form bonds and connect.”
The sharing of food has brought people together since the beginning of time. It’s how I've made good friends, nurtured relationships, celebrated milestones, mended conflicts and felt gratitude for life.
The emotions that come from sharing food are universal. Food connects every human from the stomach, and it conquers all, from language barriers to cultural differences.
Soup is one of my comfort foods. I make it frequently and usually never the same way. And, I like to share it with family and friends just because. Whether you're not feeling well, need cheering up or warming up, soup fits the bill.
When I worked at a hospice, the facility had a large family kitchen which became a gathering place for patients, families and staff. There was something about that space that drew people in to as they were and sit for a spell. We hosted many meals out of that kitchen and my office was close by so I could smell the aromas which wafted out of there. Some of the families cooked entire meals from scratch (what fabulous cooks they were), some brought in foods to heat up (often sharing their best recipes) and some just sat at the large counter or dining room table to enjoy food and just being together. It didn't matter what they ate or drank, really.
The kitchen had a full size refrigerator which families used for their favorite foods. Everything was labeled by the patients name and room number, however, I observed lots of sharing (this was definitely before COVID). We also had volunteers who came in and baked treats for the patients and their families. One gentleman named Bob was a favorite. You could set your watch (or aroma meter) because you smelled cookies baking on Friday mornings the moment you opened the door.
Bob held court in the kitchen and people drifted in and out talking with him as he baked. He listened, comforted, laughed and smiled to whomever came into the kitchen. He became known affectionally as "Cookie Bob" and even provided printed copies of his cookie recipes to share, if asked. Generations of families knew Bob and he touched countless lives by sharing his fresh baked cookies.
What do sharing foods mean to you?
Pat Bennett is the founder and President of Pat's Granola, a Cleveland based food company. Pat's Granola is sold online at www.patsgranola.com and is also available at selected Northeast Ohio businesses including:
Troubadour Coffee Roasters www.troubadourcoffeeroasters.com
Sports and Spine Physical Therapy www.sportspine.com
Locle Box www.loclebox.com
Made Cleveland www.madecleveland.com
Mister Brisket www.misterbrisket.com
Nature's Oasis Lakewood www.naturesoasis.com
Happy Cows Group Share Happy Cows Group Share
The Corner at The Van Aken District The Corner at The Van Aken District
Sweet Bean Candies Sweet Bean Candies
Hear Pat's story on Food Founders Podcast.
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