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Foodscapes

Food, Space, and Place in a Global Society

Edited By Carlnita P. Greene

Foodscapes explores the nexus of food, drink, space, and place, both locally and globally. Multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary in scope, scholars consider the manifold experiences that we have when engaging with food, drink, space, and place. They offer a wide array of theories, methods, and perspectives, which can be used as lenses for analyzing these interconnections, throughout each chapter. Scholars interrogate our practices and behaviors with food within spaces and places, analyze the meanings that we create about these entities, and demonstrate their wider cultural, political, social, economic, and material implications.

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9. Kitchen, Nation, Diaspora: Ntozake Shange’s African American Foodways (Courtney Thorsson)

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9.  Kitchen, Nation, Diaspora: Ntozake Shange’s African American Foodways

COURTNEY THORSSON

Ntozake Shange’s If I Can Cook / You Know God Can (1998) uses foodways—ways of preparing food and routes that foodstuffs travel—to offer a culinary theory of African American identity informed by the African Diaspora. In twelve chapters, If I Can Cook loosely maps forced and voluntary migrations of people of African descent from Africa to the Caribbean, to Britain, Brazil, and the American South and then west and north across the United States. Each chapter includes personal narrative, historical contexts, and recipes. Shange experiments with conventions of memoir, cookbook, novel, and travelogue. Her recipes are not only prescriptions for domestic labor confined to one’s kitchen, but also instructions for improvisation, pleasure, archiving history, imaginative travel, and survival. At the close of the twentieth century, If I Can Cook theorizes and prescribes foodways as practices of African American identity.

In this introduction, I briefly situate cookbooks in the African American literary tradition. The sections that follow describe Shange’s formal experimentation within that tradition; examine the improvisation, pleasure, and excess that are central to her textual and culinary experiments; demonstrate that Shange’s recipes prescribe literal and imagined journeys; and argue that If I Can Cook is a set of instructions for how to practice an African American cultural nationalism informed by the diaspora. The final section of this chapter, “Insisting on Living,” points to the difficulty...

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