To understand and appreciate America’s food culture, we must first understand and appreciate the African American cooks who have shaped it for centuries. So believes Toni Tipton-Martin, an award-winning food journalist and community activist. She is giving a voice to the black women who have made great, yet often overlooked, contributions to American cuisine. “The prejudices, stereotypes and choices made for African Americans in the past are part of the complex health story we have today,” she said.
Tipton-Martin’s recent book, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, explores early 19th-century cuisine. It shows the creative skill of black female cooks. It also highlights their impact on American food, families and communities.
“The black women of that time managed the nutritional needs of multiple families. And they did it on plantation rations,” she said. “They added in wild greens, proteins and grains. Some of today’s healthiest foods come from the African American experience.”
The book is based on Tipton-Martin’s collection of rare titles and cookbooks. It also shares a name with her traveling exhibit of historic photographs. The exhibit shows African American women at work in Southern kitchens.
Tipton-Martin is using her deep knowledge of the past to build community wellness today. She is creating new and powerful ways to help all people focus on their emotional, spiritual and physical health. “There are so many confusing health messages out there,” said Tipton-Martin. “As humans, we need one-on-one support. We need to be nurtured and encouraged. I’m hoping we can inspire the next generation to learn how to be wholly healthy.”
Her foundation does just that. The SANDE Youth Project hosts two major annual events in Austin, Texas, on culture, cuisine and community. Its Children’s Picnic and Real Food Fair brings families together for local food and healthy activities. Its Soul Summit tackles questions of culture and food as they relate to community wellness.
“Food can break down racial barriers. It can help us discover how much alike we are. It can bring the community together in a reconciled way,” she said.
Toni Tipton-Martin is an award-winning food and nutrition journalist, and community activist dedicated to building a healthier community.
In 1991, she became the first female African American food editor at a major daily newspaper. Today, she is author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, a reflection on the history and culture found throughout her collection of historic cookbooks. She writes a blog and runs a traveling exhibit also called The Jemima Code.
Ms. Tipton-Martin coauthored A Taste of Heritage: New African-American Cuisine, wrote a chapter in South for Culinaria: The Food of the United States and published a historic reprint of The Blue Grass Cook Book.
She is founder of The SANDE Youth Project, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of families by combating childhood hunger, obesity and disease; and promoting the connection between culture, cooking and wellness. SANDE’s outreach includes cultural exhibits, hands-on cooking demonstrations and community events. In 2014, Ms. Tipton-Martin received the John Egerton Prize for her efforts.
Ms. Tipton-Martin is on the James Beard Awards Committee and the African Heritage Diet Pyramid Advisory Committee. She is a member of several organizations, including the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and is cofounder of Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas.
Ms. Tipton-Martin has appeared on the Cooking Channel’s Foodography, the PBS feature Juneteenth Jamboree and has been a featured speaker at colleges and culinary associations throughout the country. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Gastronomica and Cooking Light magazine. Learn more at tonitiptonmartin.com.