German philosopher Walter Benjamin suggested that “history is written by the victors.” From the ancient epics of early man and travelogues of conquistadors to the journals of wartime soldiers and memoirs of world leaders, the evidence within makes Benjamin’s assessment hard to refute. The history of humanity is largely a story of conflict, conquest, and cultural appropriation. To the victor belong the spoils.
That said, there is a secret history of humanity written in large part by the conquered. It is a story borne on the trade winds of the spice route; it is a saga of the subjugated wresting sustenance from scarcity; it is recollected in the recipes passed down from generation to generation that transform tough cuts of meat and meager rations into rich regional culinary delicacies.
The secret history of humanity is food and, if we but listen, each plate we are served will tell a story.
Here at Cue & A, we will be focusing our attention on barbecue, of course; but, like barbecue, history is messy once you start digging into it; in our literary travels, we’ll no doubt trace the foodway paths that brought African okra, Spanish tomatoes, and Indian masala to the southern United States.
So, tie on a bib, grab a wet-wipe, and let’s dig in.