This is not a post to lay out reasons why you should or shouldn’t support Kwanzaa. There are plenty of debates about that happening elsewhere around the internet – for what? I don’t know. The only real option here is to celebrate it or not — like Christmas. Or Hanukkah (also made up). And all the rest of the made-up holidays. The fact that Black people got together and decided to create and support a holiday that specifically pays honor to our heritage should not be this controversial.
With that said, to those who do celebrate: Habari gani? What’s new? What’s the word? And what’s happening?
I’ll tell you what the deal is: food. We spend lots of time coming up with these fabulous cultural programs filled with kente cloth, spoken word liberation poems, and mass red, black and green candle lightenings and nobody is paying attention to the damn food. Kwanzaa needs some dishes. Christmas got dishes. So does Hanukkah. I’m tired of folks showing up to potlucks with a six pack of Pepsi and some Jiffy ready-made cornbread.
So in the spirit of the Seven Principles – and to help some of you slacking with some respectable Kwanzaa potluck ideas – I present to you seven suggestions which will make you the cowry shell rocking belle at the local PAL center…
Habari gani? Umoja.
Unity, son! And not just the larger black community, but within our own families too. So why not a delicious jambalaya, chicken stew or even this tasty looking West African-inspired stir fry? With the emphasison combining meats, starches and vegetables, one pot meals are a great, fun and easy way to highlight the spirit of togetherness at any potluck. If you are feeling particularly ambitious and want to impress some folks in the process, try making an authentic Mafe (peanut stew). If you can pull that off, they might let you light the first candle next year.
Habari gani? Kujichagulia.
We are all about self-determination to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves. And if we aren’t about it, we should totally be more about it. And I believe nothing speaks more to the community culinary emphasis on creating for one’s self than soul food. Now granted, fried chicken, collard greens and sweet potato pie are obvious choices, but there are definitely ways we can put new, progressive and even healthier spins on these classics while still honoring who were are. Remember, it is all about self-determination. So instead of the black-eyed pea soup, how about some black-eyed pea fritters? Or instead of that sweet potato pie, try some individual size sweet potato parfaits.
Habari gani? Ujima.
When I think of collective work and responsibility, the first thing that comes to mind is the need for a sound structural building including the space of agriculture. I don’t always politically see eye-to-eye with The Obamas but I do applaud the First Lady for highlighting the very real issue of food deserts. Many of our people in lower income communities do not have access to fresh foods and vegetables. Yet growing and managing our own food supplies are probably the easiest way to take responsibility for a social problem and work toward the collective good. So when thinking of something to bring to the third day celebration, think greens – as well as other colored vegetables from the garden too. Veggie wraps, pastas and skewers are always a good bet. But if you want to be seasonal, try this delicious recipe for honey roasted butternut squash with cranberries and feta cheese. Your vegetarian and other vegetable-based diet friends will surely appreciate having at least one other items at the potluck table not smothered in animal, as we know how Black folks are sometimes…
Habari gani? Ujamaa
Nothing says building and maintaining our own than supporting Black-owned businesses and enterprises. And the truth of the matter is, all of y’all can’t cook and a room full of people just trying to commune under the spirit of togetherness is not the time for you to go experimenting. Therefore I suggest on this fourth day in which we honor cooperative economics, you just bring something from the store – a Black-owned one. The website Support Black Owned.org, has a decent list (while not definitive) of Black businesses to support, including bakeries. Or you can track down (also known as ordering online) a couple of bottles from one of these Black owned-wineries, beer and spirit makers featured on the website Cuisine Noir. There’s your start.
Habari gani? Nia
“To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness,” is a pretty lofty goal for a potluck menu item. However when I think of defining “traditional greatness” within the realm of the kitchen, I think of yams. According to the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), 99 percent of the world’s production of these items comes from just five West African countries, specifically Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. And with that in mind, I can think of no other food which symbolizes the success of collective vocation, which is the other part of Nia, than the King of Crops (as christened by Chinua Achebe in the classic Things Fall Apart). Try baking a tray of golden yam brownies. Not only are they delicious but also a great conversation starter piece. After all: are they brownies if they have no chocolate in them?
Habari gani? Kuumba
Today is about Creativity. To do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. And what better way of showing our appreciation for the younger generation than some fun kid-friendly foods, which they can even help to prepare themselves? Bake and decorate cookies or cupcakes together. Or let little ones help glue the eyes on the some frozen banana penguins. Hell, make some red, black & green Rice Krispies Treats. The point is, give the kiddies something creative to do so that they too feel part of the festivities.
Habari gani? Imani
Faith. We have to believe with all of our hearts in our people. That is not easy at times – it’s not easy most times. But it is necessary, as the forces against us, including racism, classism, sexism and homophobia, are never divided or in doubt of the aim to destroy us. Therefore, for the last day of potluck, make sure to bring a good attitude and an open heart.
Yes I know: you could have come up with these suggestions on your own. But the point is to get folks excited about this Black-centered holiday. And hopefully to see the value in it, beyond all the dance, symbolism and the questionable character of the man, who started it. Wait, I said I wasn’t going to start no stuff…