Food & Drink

How to Celebrate Juneteenth Through Food

CH: I’m loving that you were with someone from Texas who was in Minnesota. I was with someone from Texas who was in DC. Really, it was these people from Texas who exported the idea of celebrating this holiday. When I think about how food moves, how culture moves, it goes out like tentacles all over the country. But it took someone from Texas.

JR: It’s interesting to think about people exporting or importing their culture. When I travel, I notice that almost every country—especially in the Caribbean and parts of South America—all have an Emancipation Day. There’s a parade. People dress up. These places that have a history of enslavement celebrate Emancipation. We can learn from those cultures.

CH: My friend Greta, who is from Houston, would always go back for Juneteenth because the celebrations were big. It was about family and bringing people together—like a statewide family reunion.

JR: I love that.

CH: When [Emancipation] happened, [Black] people weren’t celebrating yet. They were looking for their family members. [Juneteenth] is about bringing people back, about people coming together.

JR: Let’s dig into the food a little bit. One of the things that I had been thinking as a leader in food media is, How do we expand the reverence for the holiday? What cultural markers can we incorporate?

CH: Food is a starting place. So why watermelon, right? This was one of the first times you had Black commerce: formerly enslaved people growing watermelons to make their own money. That is a reason to celebrate. You had people understanding their independence and their liberation. Then, you [had] another group like, Oh my gosh, Black people can’t eat watermelon. People still hold that [belief]. They hold that before they hold the truth of why watermelon was important. I think it’s reclaiming the truth.

JR: Absolutely. The truth of that was financial liberation. As we think about Juneteenth and why we eat certain foods, it’s important to also incorporate history onto the plates. That leads me to a big question: Who gets to go to Juneteenth? Now, I throw a pretty big Juneteenth party.

CH: You love a party, and I love to go to your parties.

JR: I invite everybody I know, friends from all kinds of backgrounds. A couple of my friends who are not Black were so happy to be invited because they weren’t sure if they were allowed to celebrate. One year, after the holiday, someone asked me, “How was your Juneteenth?” I was like, “It was great. How was yours?” She looked at me with a blank face. It didn’t occur to her that she should be celebrating. She thought Juneteenth was the Black July Fourth. How do you think non-Black people should commemorate Juneteenth?

CH: I think that if any group is not free, no one is free. I’ve been to a seder, and I’m not Jewish. I think people [can be] curious about a holiday. The fact that Juneteenth is a national holiday opens the door for everyone to understand why it is important. It’s also important for us to understand, as a country, why and how this happened. So, are you going to be invited to a cookout at one of your Black friends’ homes? [Laughter.] Do you know Black people? I think you can start there.

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