Michael W. Twitty’s previous book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” contained recipes but so much more. “My work is to be a braid of food memoir, recipes, culinary history, social commentary, looking at contemporary life, and personal vulnerability,” said Twitty, a James Beard Award-winning food writer. “There’s a lot of cookbooks out there. Recipes are nice. But food is more than just how-tos.”
In his newest book, “Koshersoul” (Amistad), Twitty explores another facet of his story: the Jewish food that has sustained him his whole life, and the Jewish faith he joined as a young man. “Growing up, I had challah every single weekend,” Twitty said. As a kid in a diverse suburb of Washington, DC, he sampled food from neighbors who were Jewish, Korean, Latin American — “I was very lucky,” he said, to sample “the entire spectrum of American food! You learn how to be a real American that way.”
The identities Twitty embodies as a Black, Jewish man share much in common, he added. Both, he noted, have a history of overcoming oppression. “You had two groups who were both fleeing their own pharaoh,” he said. Both know about poverty, he added, and “using food as a way of expressing familial bonds and connections and community — food that comes from all over the world, that meets on our plate.”
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Although the history of Black-Jewish relations has been complex, and difficult at times, Twitty said he’s both realistic and optimistic. “When it comes to these connections between these two food civilizations, which are global and diasporic, there’s this beautiful sense that oh, there’s some cousins here! Anybody can see division,” he noted. “Then there’s that other part — where you see the connections. I really do want this book to be a message of love and encouragement to people to be engaged with their neighbor, their Biblical neighbor. We are in this together.”
Michael Twitty will read 7 p.m. Monday in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.