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KWANZAA - Celebrating Food and Culture

From November thru the end of December is often referred to as "The Holidays' '. Thanksgiving transitions quickly into the generic holidays, celebrated in the U.S. However, since its beginning in 1966, the seven day Kwanzaa holiday created by Dr.Maulana Karenga, and based on a variety of African inspired harvest festivals, has been celebrated by African Americans in increasing numbers. The holiday includes African drum, dance and song, storytelling and either family or community lighting of a candle that signifies the Ngozo Saba principle for each of the seven days. The ritual is a way to honor African cultural heritage and strengthen seven values which are foundational to building community. On the sixth day, December 31, represented by the principle of Kuumba or creativity, a call to leave our community better and more beautiful than we found it, and a communal Karibu feast is also a hallmark. This feast is a homage to harvest festivals held throughout the African Continent, and includes foods from the African Diaspora, most of which are inspired or a continuation of African footways.

Even as enslaved Africans lost their mother tongues, and other vestiges of culture, food continues to be an expression of cultural memories, even as dishes are transformed to utilize familiar ingredients, and those indigenous to the place they found themselves. So besides the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujaama (Collective Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith) - Kwanzaa is about community and the need for Africans throughout the Diaspora to continue the connection to their ancestral cultural lineage. There are many ways for culture to be expressed and while Kwanzaa celebrates many of those ways thru the drum, song, dance and art, food is a common and effective way to examine and preserve culture, whether in America or throughout the Pan African world.

Kwanzaa is a perfect time to decolonize diet and to embrace ancestral foods as a pathway to health and wellness. In the traditional diet of the Western and Central African countries where most enslaved Ancestors were stolen, and certainly the Continent, ingredients such as cereal grains, vegetables, tubers, meat and local fruits were a staple of their diet. In numerous studies of global diets, the traditional diet of Africans is considered the healthiest because of the low sugar, salt and high dietary fiber content. For those living in tropical countries, many of the familiar ingredients were available, conversely, African Americans are less likely to eat a diverse array of foods found in traditional cuisine. However, many ingredients considered "American" were imports from Africa, such as kola nuts (original component of Coca-Cola), okra, black eyed peas, watermelon, some peppers, coffee from Ethiopia, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, to name a few.

Kwanzaa is a secular holiday, and not meant to replace or usurp any religious affiliations common to the holiday season. Celebrating Kwanzaa is meant to strengthen the cultural ties of African people worldwide. Although it began in the Black Power Movement of the 1960's, it is now celebrated globally by millions of African people and others. Kwanzaa seeks to reclaim community in a way that embraces a shared history and connectedness by promoting unity as an anecdote to the disruption of family and communal values that European colonialism, individualism, oppression, and capitalism enforced.


Chef Nezaa

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