Identity has been on my mind a lot lately. Whether because of the harrowing realization that my quarter-life crisis search for self may not have ended when I thought it did, or due to something else entirely, is unknown. Or maybe this is just the universal truth of how your twenties are, as my friends and I are coming to find.

Am I a 20-something, left-handed vegetarian? A straight, cisgendered Jewish white girl of Eastern-European and Egyptian descent? The characteristics and likenesses determined by too many BuzzFeed quizzes whose questions about myself I’m unable to answer? All of this confusion and dissipated self-awareness was heightened last week when I read a friend of a friend’s piece in Bon Appétit about cooking and identity.

It had been a really long time since I thought at length about my identity through a culinary lens. The strongest tangible ties I have to my heritage are in recipes my parents, brother or I wrote by hand as someone from an earlier generation made the dish by touch and taste in front of us. But I’ve always owned these foods. I don’t know what it’s like to have them—and therefore a piece of my identity—taken from me, claimed as somebody else’s and told they were never mine.

This can’t be said for everyone: the rampant hatred plaguing society is so widespread that it extends beyond systematic injustices, hate crimes and derogatory slurs to the comfort of the kitchen table.

Michael Twitty, a self-described “black gay Jewish culinary historian” and “one of the chocolate chosen,” discusses culinary appropriation in his 2016 TED talk, “Gastronomy and the social injustice reality of food.” In six minutes, he discusses his journey to find culinary justice, which he defines as “the idea that oppressed peoples have the right to not only be recognized for their gastronomic contributions, but they have the right to their inherent value to derive from them uplift and empowerment.”


Twitty is deliberate in sharing his truth. “For most of my life, I’ve lived at the intersection of the illusion of race and the reality of food,” he said. To revolutionize his approach, embrace his whole identity and turn “loathing to love,” he embarked on a quest to trace his family’s culinary roots and routes from when his great-great-great grandparents were born as slaves in America. His book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” documents this project and explores, among other themes, what “slaves have to teach us about food” (a lot) and the “table of brotherhood” (no longer just a dream).

I won’t ruin the ending for you because you should listen to his TED talk, but I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “If I actually had [people] cook and argue and fight and not have a ‘kumbaya moment’ but actually work through their differences, we could actually come up with something new.”

I took this to mean that magic happens when you stay true to who you are and don’t cave or change when confronted with other people’s identities and their perceptions of you. By embracing and defending all parts of you and accepting and learning from others and their journeys, you can realize your cohesive self.

Hear more about this magic, embrace your identity (and all its intersections), confront your differences and get inspired by Twitty in-person on April 9, presented by CJP’s Jewish Learning and Engagement team as the culmination of this year’s Read On program. Find event details here.