Paula Deen, Afroculinaria and Kosher Soul

Y’all may have heard about a little brouhaha happening down Savannah way.

Yup, the Yenta’s been at ground zero for the carmelized meltdown of Paula Deen, and I had a few words about it in last week’s Civil Society Column at the day job.

Though just about everyone and their mama has had something to say about Our Lady of Perpetual Butter, no one electrified the interwebs more in the last weeks that Michael W. Twitty. The D.C.”ish”-based culinary historian became an instant star for his “Open Letter to Paula Deen,” which was picked up by the Huffington Post and has been lauded as genuine, brilliant response to allegations of racism against Deen.

I think what struck us all about Twitty’s letter – first published on his blog Afroculinaria – is that he points out that Deen’s success as a celebrity chef owes much to the culinary traditions of Africa — a fact that should be obvious but isn’t much discussed on the Food Network. That Twitty is also black, Jewish and gay makes him something of reluctant authority on all types of the kind of back-handed oppression in our society that appears mostly as omission rather that outward prejudice.

Michael Twitty at the Torah. Copyright photo by Jerome Colt.

Michael Twitty at the Torah. Copyright photo by Jasper Colt.

Most interesting is his very Jewish attitude of reconciliation instead of anger towards Deen:

As a Jew, I extend the invitation to do teshuvah — which means to repent — but better — to return to a better state, a state of shalem — wholeness and shalom — peace.

In other words, forgiving Paula Deen — whom I have met on a number of occasions and found to be a genuinely nice lady — is the Jewish thing to do.

I dig Twitty’s rabbinical musings; though he is not a rabbi, he shines a unique light on Jewish food and our faith in general. In his Afroculinaria post Passover: A Black-Jewish Food Musing, he writes that Judaism’s imperfect, ever-evolving beliefs resonate in his neshama (soul):

One of the reasons I am madly, passionately, head over soles in love with Judaism is unrestrained passion it has for questions, analysis, study, review, revision and that dance it seems to revel in between tradition and intellectual anarchy.


This wonderful man is welcome at the Yenta Shabbos table ANYTIME. Also, Gentleman understands that at the end of the day, it really is ABOUT THE FOOD.

At the conclusion of his letter, Twitty invited Paula — and the rest of us — to Durham, NC for the Historic Stagville Harvest Festival and Benefit Dinner on Sept. 7, featuring the true traditions of Southern cuisine and whence it came:

We will be making a pit covered with saplings and will barbecue all day over oak, hickory and fruit woods for the meal, and we will turn fresh produce and fruit into cast iron cooked delicacies for our side dishes and desserts.  Nearly all the food will be cooked according to 19th century methods and the recipes will reflect the celebratory foods as eaten by enslaved North Carolinians and Free Blacks in antebellum times.

Why friends, that’s the day after Rosh Hashanah and during the great Days of Awe, when we are meant to delve deepest into our souls before atoning on Yom Kippur. Seems to me this would be a soul food fest in every way — it’d be a serious shlep, but I hope to check it out.

In the meantime, I am so trying out Twitty’s Jerk Chicken Spaghetti recipe!