I can’t wait to get my copy of America I Am Pass it Down Cookbook, featuring my Stolen Authority essay and my Grandmother’s yummy Apple Dumpling’s recipe that brings back childhood memories of being 6 years-old, kneeling in the kitchen chair anxiously watching her bake. The smells in the kitchen, the unforgettable flavors—these powerful memories of food, family, and tradition are intertwined and have traveled down from generations past to help make us the people we are today. Now, Tavis Smiley’s America I AM exhibit has joined forces with Chef Jeff Henderson and Ramin Ganeshram to create the America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook.
Below is an excerpt from my essay:
Stolen Authority: African American Images in Food Advertising
In 1991 I co-curated an exhibition, featuring African American designers titled Visual Perceptions: 21 African American Designers challenge Modern Stereotypes designers challenged modern stereotypes, and each graphic designer was charged with the task to create a one-of-kind poster addressing how blacks have been continuously portrayed in the media. I decided to tackle the image of Aunt Jemima, creating a poster, titled, “Ain’t Ja Mama on the Pancake Box.” As I researched my piece, I began to think deeply about the image of the, heavy-set, wide bosomed black woman, hair tied up and grinning from ear to ear. She was a soothing, even comforting figure in American food advertising. Pancakes, after all are homey, cozy, sweet and delicate.
The truth is, of course, that Aunt Jemima is just one of the all-too- poor mammy, pickannies, and blackface, characters who were a standard portrayal of Africa Americans—one that was used to peddle everything from tires to clothing to food.
Toni Tipton- Martin, a food historian, has extensively researched the origins of such symbols, and compared them to the lack of inclusion of blacks cooks in the culinary arts. It’s a bitter irony that their success has always been dependent on the real-world authority invested in these figures. They are experts in their ”fields” and that’s what makes their products good. It is an irony that is played out over and over in the pages of the old magazines.