Student Cookbook Celebrates Black Joy

Collards sizzle in a pan on a hot stove before a lid stifles their chorus. Cutting boards, vegetables, and dishes crowd the countertop in a small apartment kitchen. A nearby sweet potato pie exudes the warming aromas of cinnamon, allspice and bourbon, filling the room with its perfume each time the oven door opens.

“If apple pie is the most American pie, then sweet potato pie is the most Black American pie,” said Bailey Benson ’23, a Morehead-Cain Scholar majoring in food studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

She pulls the pie from the oven to cool, then dons plastic gloves and reaches for a bag of chicken that has been marinating in a sweet-and-spicy peanut sauce. Her roommate, Serenity Bennett, clicks off the stove dial and removes the pan of collards. The mouth-watering meal is accompanied by sweet potato cubes, couscous and a spicy margarita — all recipes included in Benson’s cookbook.

“An Afrofuturist’s Guide to Cooking” is her undergraduate thesis project. Benson’s life experiences thus far culminate in pages that connect the reader to not only food, but also a rich history of Black Americans descended from people displaced by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This displacement, known as the Black diaspora, occurred throughout the world, but Benson focuses on the borders of the U.S. for her project.

Benson weaves together art, music, recipes, interviews and historical documents to tell the story from the Black perspective, using her own life experiences to inform her process.

“It started as a cookbook,” she said, “but now I describe it as an educational celebration of Black joy.”

Her approach to the cookbook makes the recipes and cultural history more accessible, and she hopes to eventually publish it to help others relearn their past in an inclusive way.

“I want everybody to be able to not only read it and enjoy it, but also cook from it and have a good meal.”

Read more about Benson’s project…

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