#BlackHistoryEats / Day 01 / Yam
Happy Black History Month, y'all!
I am really excited to celebrate via the act of cultural keeping this month. I've created #BlackHistoryEats as way to reclaiming our history that is often erased (and with the current climate we are in, we must seize every opportunity to do so!) From chattel slavery to present day 2017, our Black bodies, labor, and culture have been co-opted and used for monetary gain to further and secure capitalism.
Our food is no exception. Time and time again our ancestral food is watered down as ‘superfood’ as lazy versions of it appear at on the pristine plates of the latest trending "foodie" spot. promoting our food without our history racist and culturally violent.
#BlackHistoryEats is a celebration. A celebration of flavor, joy, and richness. It is illumination. It is centering the Africanity of different vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, and herbs, and spices that we may (and may) not be familiar with.
I am intentionally highlighting different foods that can help paint our broader story. These foods remind us that to be Black is to be Pan-African. They instill in us that our story is grand and layered and does not begin with chains and enslavement. And they inspire us to keep creating and flourishing in the midst of chaos and unending trauma.
Black food is more than just food; it’s a map of where we have been and a tool that guides into new worlds of liberation.
So, today is Day 1. I thought it fitting to ground us in this moment by beginning with a sturdy, root crop ... the yam.
There are more than 200 varieties of yams
Yams do best in temperate climates and currently grow in Africa, The Caribbean, South America, and parts of Asia
Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes?! - Yams and sweet potatoes are both root vegetables, however, they are very, very different (they're not even a part of the same family). Sweet potatoes are slender and tend to have smooth, thin skin and can be orange or purple. Yams are always white or off-white and in the inside and can grow several inches long. Their outer layer is very rugged and can even be a bit hairy. There are many reasons why sweet potatoes are sold as "yams" in most grocery stores (this is excluding cultural markets). When enslaved Africans were stolen from various countries (particularly the Western region of the continent) and brought to the United States, many recognized sweet potatoes as a (visibly) similar root crop to yams, so they began calling them yams. The word "yam" is actually the root word of several words in different West African dialects, one of which is the word "nyami" which translates as "to eat". It is believed that another reason why sweet potatoes are sold as yams in the stores is that some farmers wanted their sweet potatoes to have a distinction so they could make more money, so they called them "yams" (<-- see, capitalism!)
Yams show up in a traditional Anasi story called
Yams are referred to as the "King of the Crops" in the opening chapter of Chinua Achebe's When Things Fall Apart
They contain a significant source of vitamin C, manganese, and potassium and are rich in a variety of antioxidants
They are very high in fiber and are a complex carbohydrate (great news for those who are diabetic or who are monitoring their blood sugar -- fiber helps ensure that sugar is released into the blood stream more evenly and not in huge spurts). Yams are also a lot less sweeter than sweet potatoes.
Unlike some tubers (root vegetables), they contain some levels of toxins (like diosgenin) which is why they are always eaten cooked and not normally eaten raw. Note: toxins aren't always bad! A lot of foods, plants, and vitamins have traces of toxins in them (think of it as a way for the plant to protect itself from getting eaten!), there is some research being done to explore if yams are great for preventing some menopausal symptoms because of the presence of diosgenin.
- Yams are often baked, boiled, or fried
- Many African ethnicities also pound yam into fufu - a thick, doughy like consistency usually from a starch like a yam, cassava/yucca or plantain and dipped in spicy or bitter soups and stews. Traditionally, fufu takes hours to prepare and ritually uses special tools.