Food connects America and Africa

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Craves restaurant in Charleston is a good place to begin recognizing the centrality of African-American food to American culture.  The Low Country cuisine is a direct retention of African culture.

Author John William Templeton starts there in Say Grace and Wipe Yo’ Hands: The BlackRestaurant.NET Guide to America’s Black Restaurants.    To underscore his theme, he launched Black Food Month in March to follow up on the impact of National Black Business Month, which he co-founded in 2004.

“More than one million African-Americans work in food service, we generate $6 billion from food-related businesses and $75 billion we spend on food each year is our second largest expenditure,” says the veteran historian and business journalist.

In Say Grace, he answers the age-old question for black travelers: “Where can I get some of our food?”  More than 500 ot the top locations in states across the nation are cited in the book, which grew out of a National Black Business Month exhibition in 2005 where he located all 60 black restaurants in San Francisco

The South Carolina connection continues as the most famous name in black food, the late Sylvia Woods, migrated from there to Harlem where she launched Sylvia’s in 1962.  Now, her foods are in grocery stores across the planet.  It is a path that many more African-American entrepreneurs are following as they lift their sights beyond having just one restaurant, to creating chains, writing cookbooks, producing television shows and filling supermarket aisles.

Templeton sees the current generation of black chefs restoring the prominence of blacks in American cooking in the earliest days of the republic, when the first caterers were black businessmen in Philadelphia.

During March, when eating out is a national pastime for spring break, college basketball playoffs, and Easter, Templeton encourages all foodies to consciously seek out at least one African-American food business–a restaurant, caterer, manufacturer–each day of March. It is the same 31 Ways 31 Days approach used during National Black Business Month in August.

Say Grace is designed to facilitate that patronage with locatons of the largest African-American chains, a breakdown of African-American franchisees, African,Caribbean, vegetarian, seafood, barbecue and chicken eateries, a list of black food manufacturers and notable celebrity eateries. It also lists the Top 50 Names in Black Food and gives a list of suggested activities for each day of March.

Templeton brings a rich background to the field.  His father was a submarine cook in the Navy during World War II and managed a restaurant for several decades in North Carolina. He’s been a journalist for 41 years, editing the first black newspaper to have a centennial edition and serving as the first black editor of a business newspaper at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

In his hometown of San Francisco, he recently completed the African-American Freedom Trail, an exhibit and brochure in conjunction with San Francisco Travel to highlight African-American attractions in the city leading to upcoming legislation to create the first such trail in the Western states.

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