Rooted in A Zero Waste Culture: Celebrating Black History Through Food and Ingenuity


Rooted in A Zero Waste Culture: Celebrating Black History Through Food and Ingenuity

February 1, 2023

Started in 1976, Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the culture and heritage of African Americans throughout history. Black history is fundamentally American history — one steeped in ingenuity, persistence, and invaluable contributions to our nation’s social fabric — and it can often be traced through food. Forged by the violence of Atlantic slavery and shaped by centuries of agricultural and culinary labor by African people and their descendants, African-American food traditions run deep and have transcended over time to become the cornerstone of much of southern, soul food, and other cuisines throughout the U.S., and of course the entire world. 

A remarkable thing about this food history is how it sprang from enterprise, creativity, survival,  and necessity. Innovation in Black food culture came from scarcity, and being unjustly forced into hardship and food insecurity. Creating recipes using scraps, leftovers, and ingredients that were otherwise deemed as “less than,” African-American culture set the standard for creating delicious and wholesome meals from very little, and they are meals that we still enjoy today. From cornbread to gumbo, mac and cheese to fried chicken, it is a culinary legacy that is deeply ingrained in the American cultural profile.

And in a time when 35% of food is never eaten, so much can be learned from the spirit of making the most use of the food we have available to us. Not just the specific recipes that we have come to treasure, but also the way of thinking and behaving that wastes as little as possible and treats food as the precious commodity that it is. 

History is always evolving, and while we cannot erode the bitter and lingering taste that is embedded in the African-American experience, we can honor, celebrate, and acknowledge the countless innovators, chefs, activists, scientists, families, and everyday individuals that have left and continue to leave a lasting impact on our food system. 

During this month, ReFED will be sharing some of our favorite resources from Black authors for learning more about the recipes they invented, and the whole African diaspora of food. The world would be a less vibrant and enjoyable place without these timeless contributions. We encourage you to try one out, celebrate its importance, and even more, to embrace the intangible quality of resilience that created a waste-free mindset — while also savoring the flavorful taste of America's soul.

  1. High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America
  2. Celebrating Black History Through Food - A collection of SAVEUR’s best stories about the foods and culinary traditions of the African diaspora
  3. 27 Soulful Recipes From the African Diaspora to Celebrate Black History Month
  4. 33 Innovative Recipes to Honor Black History Month - Recipes like Collard Green Handpies, and Sweet Potatoes with peanut dipping sauce! 
  5. An Exploration Of Soul Food
  6. Celebrating Black Food Activism for Black History Month
  7. Celebrating Black History Month with 10 Groundbreaking Black Food Activists
  8. 16 Black Innovators Who Changed Food Forever
  9. How Enslaved Chefs Helped Shape American Cuisine
  10. 8 Black Scientific Pioneers Who Forever Changed Food
  11. 50 Restaurants, 50 States: The Best Black-Owned Restaurants In America
  12. 61 Must-Try Black-Owned Restaurants in the U.S.
  13. 36 Black-Owned Restaurants You Need to Know Around the U.S.
  14. Black History Month: Feeding America celebrates 4 Black inventors who impacted our mission
  15. 28 Essential Cookbooks by Black Chefs, Authors and Historians

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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