KosherSoul by Michael W. Twitty

This was one of my favorite books that I read this year. This is Twitty’s second book in what he envisioned as a trilogy of books that cover his work as a food historian that began with The Cooking Gene. This one in particular explores his identity as a black, gay, Jewish man in a world where being marginalized in one area is enough as it is. He describes growing up in Baltimore and his path to creating a vibrant fusion of flavors and cultural road markers while investigating how we interact as a culture and what it means to be who he is in the various identities he embodies.

I found this book to be an essential read in many ways. First, as a memoir, Twitty succeeds in laying a foundation of how his life and experiences have led him to be the culinary-conscious, TED-talking, James Beard award-winning author we know him as today. He then explores his roots as a Black man and as a Jew, at one point revealing that he sees all Jews as Black, and vice versa. Unlike Ye’s most recent revelations, Twitty’s was born in the cultural melting pot of the historic, geographic, and culinary experience and he builds his argument with strong, beautiful arguments for the ways in which we are so closely knit as cultures. He also has no problem revealing where he doesn’t feel as welcome as he absolutely should, knowing that we as an ethno-religion take love, brotherhood, and our origins very seriously. But while the secret handshake clearly goes beyond borders and skin color (and as David Baddiel recently explored, Jews don’t count, but only to the extent that there are some of us that pass for white as long as the eye of the beholder doesn’t know we’re Jewish), there are still moments of shocking social ignorance to what we all have in common as Jews. Twitty knows his limitations on talking just from his experience, so there are portions of the book where he brings in other voices to discuss their stories, and it lends itself to such a beautiful tapestry woven from lives, stories, and our shared culture.

Finally, food.

Obviously, food is so central to this book, and Twitty’s exploration of what food means to him, how it is prepared, and what it means is explored beautifully in this book. The book ends with about a hundred pages of his unique vision of fusion – all kosher, and ready for preparation all year round. There are holiday menus, new takes on a variety of kugels, and ways to incorporate Cajun, African, and Caribbean cooking styles or dishes into the Jewish food diaspora. It all looks so amazingly delicious, I plan to try every recipe.

Twitty’s KosherSoul was a beautiful book and easily one of the best I read right when it came out this year. I am looking forward to seeing where he goes in his third book, and honestly, his first two are great reflections on food and culture no matter what yours is. I will be revisiting this one and have already recommended it to friends and family. It’s triumphant.

Here are links to some great online talks, if you haven’t seen them…

Gastronomy and the Social Justice Reality of Food (TED)

The Cooking Gene (Chicago Humanities Festival)

Kosher/Soul (Elon University)

Image:, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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