High on the Hog

In this semester-long series, students from Dr. Catarina Passidomo’s Southern Foodways and Culture course share reflections on class readings and discussions. Check out the course syllabus, read along with us, and share your own thoughts on Facebook & Twitter using the #SFABookClub hashtag.

HighontheHogHigh on the Hog

In the second part of our Southern Foodways class, we trace the theme of multiple oppressions: stories of race, class, and gender. Jessica B. Harris’ High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, a look at the origin and diaspora of African foodways in North America, fits this bill on all levels. Each of the ten chapters is divided into three parts: an introduction, a chronological presentation of African American history of a particular period, and a closer perspective of the period’s food. Recipes and a list of further readings conclude the text.

To begin class discussion, SFA graduate assistant Abby Huggins and German exchange student Frederick Billmeier paired students up to share something striking about the text then share that tidbit with the class. Pairs highlighted the black cowboys who arrived in the western territories, the food and food lessons that came from slavery, the detailed description of the Middle Passage, including what the enslaved people and the crew were eating, and the oyster traders in New York who were selling $15,000 of oysters a day in 1866. That’s a lot of bivalves.

From the start, Harris explains that she has “deliberately foresworn the traditional academic format that [she] teach[es] in order to move the odyssey forward.” Students found Harris’ narrative quality “highly approachable and informative,” with the chapter on modern diversity in African American foodways tying together “the best coverage on the global South we’ve seen yet.” Students were also enthusiastic about Harris’ personal connection to the culinary kaleidoscope of the African continent, as well as the tasty calas (rice fritters typically sold on the streets of New Orleans in the 1830s) that Abby had made from one of the book’s recipes.

Afterward, the class viewed Byron Hurt’s film Soul Food Junkies, which distinguishes between whether soul food is good to you versus good for you. Using an array of interview subjects, including Jessica B. Harris, Hurt explores the significance of soul food from a personal perspective, much like High on the Hog.

Stay tuned next week for Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams-Forson.

by Rebecca Lauck Cleary, graduate student at the University of Mississippi