When I was growing up, there was no question of what I wanted for dinner. I wanted glorified "American" food: hamburgers, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese. I dreamed of coming home from school to find my mom pulling a pot roast from the oven, not setting the table with chopsticks and bowls of rice.
It wasn't until I left home for college that I began to miss my mother's cooking, and decided to recreate some of her dishes. After a few mishaps and a cupboard full of burnt pans, I decided to look to the Internet for guidance, discovering the wonderful world of food blogs.
Recently I came across a few food blogs that are really about more than food — they're also about race, culture and identity, the stuff that Code Switch is all about. They get into topics like body image, inter-generational immigrant family life, and American racial history while also dishing up great recipes and drool-worthy pics.
I wanted to share a few that I really like, and sound off in the comments if you have others to recommend!
Clementina Llanes, a Mexican-American living near Santa Barbara, started her food blog after a friend admitted not knowing how to cook any of her mom's dishes. She says she wanted her blog to give readers a sense of her favorite pastime: "sitting in a cozy cocina listening to a story with una tacita de chocolate and a toasted buttered bolillo."
Llanes finds inspiration from the traces of Mexican culture she sees all around southern California, as well as stories her parents told her when she was a child. She writes about modernized Mexican cuisine, but professes her love of traditional recipes like arroz con leche.
Her posts often read as if she's chatting with her friends, peppered with Spanish words and phrases. She also occasionally takes up broader issues of Latino-American identity. Take a recent post where she addresses her readers "con las manos abiertas [with open hands] to ask you un gran favor. Please buy a Latino children's book to read your children, your nietos o sobrinos — and no, it doesn't have to be my children's book (though it would be nice)."
Llanes has an opinion on everything from literature to pop culture to her Mexican roots, and shares her heritage by reiterating the importance of "never forgetting where we came from or those who taught us the joy of cooking for those we love."
Afroculinaria is a blog authored by culinary historian and food writer Michael W. Twitty that suggests you can't understand blackness in America without properly understanding African-American culinary history.
Twitty's work is unique in that he provides what he calls a Kosher/Soul perspective, which refers to his being Jewish and black. Twitty became fascinated with Jewish culture after reading Chaim Potok's The Chosen when he was seven, officially converting to Judaism at 25. After his conversion, Twitty carved a culinary niche by combining elements of African-American and Jewish cuisine.
Take Twitty's Kosher/Soul take on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. He says being both black and Jewish gives him "incredible freedom in creating my holiday recipes. It also means we have the opportunity to make new meanings and draw people's attention to different aspects of our heritage." Twitty explains that many Jews observe Shavuot with dishes full of dairy — cheesecake, blintzes, burekas, and pasta, for example. He plays with ingredients to give you recipes like Collard Green Lasagna and Mango Chai Syrup to drizzle on your Shavuot pastries.
Twitty made waves in 2013 when he wrote an "open letter" to Paula Deen, responding to the controversy surrounding her dismissal from the Food Network after she admitted to using racial slurs and allegedly dreamed of a "true southern plantation-style wedding" for her brother. In the letter, Twitty digs deep into what he calls the "systematic racism in the world of Southern food":
You see Paula, your grits may not be like mine, but one time I saw you make hoecakes on your show and I never heard tell of where them hoecakes really came from. Now not to compare apples and oranges but when I was a boy it was a great pleasure to hear Nathalie Dupree talk about how beaten biscuits and country captain and gumbo started. More often than not, she gave a nod to my ancestors. Don't forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor's Georgia plantation.
Twitty's upcoming project is The Cooking Gene, a book that will "document the connection between food history and family history from Africa to America, from slavery to freedom." It's set to release later this year, but until then, check out his blog for more on the rich history behind African-American or Jewish staples like collard greens, black-eyed peas, latkes and challah.
Nephi Craig's food blog comes from the perspective of the head chef of a crew of White Mountain Apache Native Americans. He writes about the professional aspects of running a kitchen at the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel in Greer, Arizona, and of cooking a cuisine that can be reproduced elsewhere to some extent but "must be created here in the White Mountains and prepared by White Mountain Apaches." That is because White Mountain Apache cuisine is built upon local seasons and wild flora and fauna of the region. The blog traces Craig's thought process behind menu inspirations and digs into how Native American culture shapes the kitchen's culinary creations.
On the blog, Craig breaks down the elements of his dishes, giving history and backstory to each ingredient, whether it's something as ubiquitous as butternut squash or indigenous like Pinon Cloud, a heavy cream fused with toasted pine nut. He also explains the logic behind plating his dishes, thoughtfully placing each item so that the dish as a whole evokes a certain place, cultural theme, or bit of history.
Sue Pressey shares cooking tips, tricks, and secrets with her Korean and Korean-fusion food blog. She brings everything back to her Korean roots, tying in historical context and explanations that might be useful to Koreans and non-Koreans alike, with pictures of packaging and freshly opened ingredients to show readers what to look for when stocking their own pantries.
Pressey started her blog in 2006 when her husband, who's white, was chatting about how difficult it can be for non-Koreans to find out more about Korean food. She realized there was an audience for Korean food blogs of people living outside the country. She writes about cooking for the non-Korean palate, but doesn't deviate so far from her roots as to lose those ethnic flavors in the process.
Check out Pressey's Thirty Essential Ingredients List to Korean cooking, where she tells you exactly what those ingredients are, what they're used for, and whether there are any viable alternatives in the product market. Her in-depth posts on common ingredients, cookware and basic facts and misconceptions of Korean food are also great.
It's an online forum created by actor/food blogger Lynn Chen and Asian-American activist Lisa Lee, who met after Chen stumbled upon an interview with NPR with Lee. Lee had recently shared her personal struggles on weight and body image in the Asian-American magazine Hyphen, and the interview touched upon the issues that shaped Lee's sense of self:
I think one of the issues here is that people in the Asian-American community, like especially parents, tend to be pretty blunt. So it's not taboo to see you and go, 'Oh my gosh, you know, you've gained so much weight.' Or, you know, 'Oh my gosh, you've lost so much weight.'
Upon hearing Lee talk her experience connecting Asian-American culture and issues of body image, Chen knew she had to reach out. Chen shares their story on the blog:
I didn't even know what I wanted from Lisa, but I felt compelled to start something. I've been looking for something concrete regarding Asians and body image for years. When I first began my therapy in my 20s, I had contacted various national eating disorder groups to see if there were any support groups for Asians. I was left at a dead end, and the messages I got over the next decade were that eating disorders and body image were not problems that affected people in my community.
Chen and Lee decided to create a forum on food and body image with respect to Asian-American society, culture, and family. They also brought in Dr. Michi Fu, a licensed psychologist, who answers questions and gives advice on the site. Check out I Overcame Anorexia Despite Its Taboo In My Asian American Community, Growing Up Asian and Unskinny, and Taiwan Food Adventures.
For a list of more food-related blogs, here's Saveur's Fifty-Five Great Global Food Blogs. And we'd love to hear from you — what are some identity-exploring food blogs that you've found and like? Sound off in the comments below!