I Know How to Fix Kwanzaa

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Another year, another Kwanzaa, another conversation bemoaning its lack of broader acceptance.

Could it be any more obvious?
This is a holiday in need of a dish– an edible emblem, a culinary signature.

All the great holidays have one.
Thanksgiving has its turkey and St. Patrick’s Day has corned beef and cabbage. There are hams and chocolate bunnies for Easter, Champagne corks popping on New Years Eve, and a December parade of Christmas delicacies, from candy canes to roasted goose. Even Passover, a Jewish salute to deprivation mind you, has its matzoh ball soup.

Kwanzaa is hobbled by its newness.
The best holiday foods are those that bind together generations. The ghosts of ancestors hover over the holiday table through their recipes. You might come from a family of terrible cooks, but you’ll gladly choke down some godawful dishes for years, and then foist them on your own children and grandchildren, because even crappy traditions resonate. Kwanzaa has only been with us for some 40 years, barely time to imbue foods with cultural and personal significance, much less to accumulate a gaggle of ancestral ghosts.

It’s all about unity.
Umoja (Unity) is a guiding principle of Kwanzaa. It encompasses Pan-African unity and unity in the African-American community. A unified cuisine—now there’s a challenge. There are more than 50 African nations; that’s a community of 50+ indigenous cuisines, then add in African-American cooking. Some families fast on Kwanzaa days, feasting after the sun sets; some set food on the floor for their ancestors, in the African style; while others stick to a New World-leaning soul food menu.

And then there’s the cake that just won’t die.
Über-Caucasian Sandra Lee (the First Lady-elect of New York State and QVC Queen, aka the Food Network’s Semi-Homemade Cook) took Kwanzaa cookery to a wide audience with her televised tribute that quickly became an internet sensation. A cultural and culinary abomination—some have even called it an edible hate crime—Ms. Lee starts with a store-bought angel food cake that she covers with canned frosting. Another can–this one apple pie filling– is stuffed into the cake’s center, and the whole mess is garnished with a bag of corn nuts. Yes, corn nuts. The spectacularly over-sized candles on top give a shout-out to Kwanzaa’s traditional, nightly candle-lighting.

Just not feeling the Kwanzaa thing.
Kwanzaa has never been celebrated by more than a tiny minority of African-Americans, and even that marginal popularity is in decline. Kwanzaa needs to forge some new traditions— a catchy song wouldn’t hurt, and maybe a cuddly mascot. But to really turn things around, Kwanzaa needs its own crowd-pleasing, emblematic dish.

View the preternaturally chirpy Sandra Lee in her now-infamous cake-making video.

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4 Responses to I Know How to Fix Kwanzaa

  1. Marginalized says:

    I find it incomprehensible that anyone would celebrate this ‘holiday’ to begin with. It has zero to do with African culture, just like 95% of black Americans, and was started by a brutal convicted rapist. The question is, how in the hell has it continued for 40 years? That is insane. Hey, I know this is an old topic, but I just got here, ok?

  2. Rachel says:

    oh excuse my typos!

  3. Rachel says:

    I love this. So very true the holiday needs something delicious to tie it all together. But everything does really!

    And I love the quote on the picture because I’ll tell you that cake would definitely makes you wonder if Sandra was passive aggressively trying to communicate her true feelings the people so as to avoid losing advertising during her show… When I saw that segment her originally, I just sat wide-eyed and mouth-opened in shock.

  4. OhEmGee … Speechless @ that Kwanzaa cake.

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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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