Book Review: “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America”, by Jessica B. Harris

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Book Review: “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America”, by Jessica B. Harris

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America is an extraordinary culinary odyssey that delves into the rich and complex history of African diaspora cuisine, meticulously crafted by the talented writer and historian, Jessica B. Harris.

Harris, an authority on African diaspora food traditions, masterfully weaves together an engrossing narrative that explores the origins, struggles, and triumphs of African people and their culinary legacy. The book begins with a profound exploration of Africa’s diverse culinary heritage, highlighting the flavors, techniques, and customs that laid the foundation for what would eventually become soul food.

The reader embarks on a journey walks them through the chilling era of the transatlantic slave trade, and sheds light on the survival and resilience of African culinary traditions that made it through the Middle Passage. With her thorough research and captivating storytelling, Harris continues to paint a vivid picture of the multitude of ways these tastes and recipes significantly influenced cuisine within the United States. For all you food enthusiasts out there, you’ll absolutely love this gastronomic tour de force with the traditional recipes sprinkled throughout the book! It’s a fun and immersive way for you to bring a taste of history right into your own kitchen.

Upon reading Harris’s book, I also became aware of the High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America docu-series available on Netflix which brings the stories and dishes from the pages to the screen. The incredible locations and insightful interviews truly do an exceptional job of honoring the legacy of these ingredients and the pathways they traveled to shape the culinary landscapes of various regions across America.

Additionally, I learned of the existence of the African American Garden: The Caribbean Experience exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), which proved to be an enriching showcase brilliantly highlighting the profound connection between African American heritage and the rich botanical legacy of the Caribbean. This exhibit not only presents a stunning array of plant life native to the Caribbean but also tells a powerful story of cultural resilience, adaptation, and creativity.

From the pages of her book to the stunning visuals and voices on screen to the fruitful gardens full of scents and seeds, I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the rich tapestry Harris’ has woven and am left in awe of the multifaceted ways these experiences tie together stories, flavors, and histories. Each medium—literature, visual storytelling, and botanical exhibition—offered a unique lens through which to appreciate the profound depth and breadth of African American and Caribbean culinary traditions.

The genius of Jessica B. Harris in crafting narratives that are as nourishing as they are enlightening cannot be overstated. Her work is a gift to the world, providing a well-rounded and deeply engaging journey into the heart of African American cuisine and its indelible impact on American culture and beyond. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to connect with such stories and flavors, and for Harris’s unparalleled contributions to our understanding and appreciation of this vital aspect of our shared heritage.

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