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Dinner Illuminates African Roots in American Cooking

Through Roots to Glory Tours, American chefs traveled to Benin and Togo to explore their cuisine. (Devon Hamilton/Michael Fields Agricultural Institute)
Through Roots to Glory Tours, American chefs traveled to Benin and Togo to explore their cuisine. (Devon Hamilton/Michael Fields Agricultural Institute)
May 9, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – There's a connection between African cooking and the United States.

Devon Hamilton, associate policy director with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, recently returned from the West African countries of Benin and Togo and will share what he's learned at a Madison-area middle school this week.

The trip was organized by Roots to Glory Tours, which connects black people from around the world with their African roots.

Hamilton traveled with Michael Twitty, a chef and author of "The Cooking Gene," as well as other American chefs and historians. He says one of the biggest takeaways was finding the intersections between history, food and identity.

"Our story as black folks in America doesn't begin with slavery,” he states. “And so, we were looking at what traditions and heritage and bits of culture that we brought with us here, and we saw a lot of similarities between a lot of the dishes that we eat today."

Hamilton mentors children through the Growing Urban Leaders in Food Systems program, and is piloting a lesson plan at Badger Rock Middle School this week.

He notes the charter middle school is unique, combining education, urban farming and a community center. He'll be making traditional African meals on Friday at Badger Rock for a community dinner.

Hamilton says the dishes will be made entirely from scratch with students. They'll make a traditional West African cuisine called fufu, grilled plantains, a cheese known as wagashi and accara, or black-eyed pea fritters.

He see this lesson as an important community-building tool.

"What it means to sit down in community and make a meal together,” he states. “What we've gained and lost from how we eat today, and really just homing in on a lot of the different things that we can do and talk about, and check in with each other and discuss, when we sit down and actually take time to put in work and make something together."

Hamilton notes that Badger Rock supports the causes of food justice and sustainable agriculture, and holds community dinners every two weeks.

Disclosure: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WI