FROM THE GRIO — We come from a history of ‘artisanal’ food producers; we lived off the fruit of the land, canned our own vegetables, cured our meats, and made our own jams and breads — but then there was a shift. With the Great Migration, we left our farms for the big cities and our rapport with food changed; with progress, we lost some of our great traditions. Thankfully, current concerns for well-being and a desire to bring healthier, more wholesome products into our communities have fueled a growth in the artisanal food market.
TheGrio spoke with several African-American culinary entrepreneurs and discovered that the “back to basics” philosophy is alive and well. Artisinal foods — which by definition are handmade using traditional techniques — are helping blacks reconnect with some of the best aspects of our past. As you plan your remaining holiday feasts, you may want to keep one of these African-American artisanal food producers in mind.
Take for instance, Slow Jams. The socially-conscious artisanal jam company in Oakland, California, is the brain-child of Shakirah Simley. The young food activist was born in the South Bronx and raised in Harlem, neighborhoods with little access to fresh produce, not to mention access to organic or locally-grown options. This deficit helped spark her commitment to making sure healthy foods are available to everyone. Her jams help her realize this vision.
“Canning and preserving are a sometimes forgotten thread in the fabric that makes up African-American food culture. However, farming, gardening and ‘putting food by’ is very much a part of our history, [coming from the] need for self-reliance and [a means of] staving off hunger,” Simley told theGrio. “When I’m selecting heirloom varieties of apricots or patiently boiling down grapes for jelly, I’m following the tradition of our not-so-far-away ancestors who did the same to feed their families with very little resources and preserve the harvest. Making jam isn’t some trend; [it's] a real way to connect folks to our heritage, the land and to each other.”