"It wasn't precise, but there were all these stories and our history was completely folded up in telling these stories as you're sitting in the kitchen and watching your grandmother and your mother cook. This happens with everybody. That's why they call it 'soul food.'"
And that's what Davis wishes Deen would acknowledge - that she's peddling and profiting off the food part, but leaving the soul behind.
Deen writes frequently about learning in the kitchen at her Grandma Paul's side, and shares that story with a wider audience. African-American food traditions were often shared orally, and only within the community, Davis says. She now believes they need to take control over their own story, document it and spread the gospel. Cookbooks by African-American celebrities like Pearl Bailey and Patti LaBelle are a great start, but there needs to be more, and in cooks' own words.
"If our stories aren't told correctly and through a proper lens, we get cut out of the narrative," Davis says.
"In those kitchen moments, my grandmother and grandfather's life became real to me. We have to write it down. We're not living in a time where people are eating fried chicken for four or five hours on Sunday, with anybody. This is the perfect time to take our oral history, film it, write it down so it's not lost."
Food justice activist and podcast host Nicole A. Taylor, a native Southerner, said in a recent video blog that she's "done with Paula Deen," but that the incident sheds a light on the food world needing more African-American representation on Food Network and in mainstream media outlets.
"We need to show that the South is just not Paula Deen," she said. "The South is me. The South is immigrants who are moving here. We need to lift these people up so that Paula Deen does not become the poster child for what is Southern in terms of food."
And Twitty would like to sit down and talk about it over a meal. In a much-read open letter to Deen on his website yesterday, he invited the embattled chef to a gathering at a historic plantation in September when he's hosting a fundraiser for Historic Stagville, a North Carolina, plantation that once held 900 slaves and is now a historic tourist destination.
"I want you to walk the grounds with me, go into the cabins, and most of all I want you to help me cook," Twitty wrote. "If you're brave enough, let's break bread...This isn't publicity this is opportunity. Leave the cameras at home."
Davis, too, believes in the power of food to soothe and stitch painful rifts. "Food and music are the foundations of African-American - and American culture. They're a perfect way to talk about race and move forward. And they're a thing that people love about us, and we love about us - but it's been abused," she says.
Davis continued, "The first thing you have to do is admit that it's happened, talk about it, move on and forgive. Have a conversation over a meal with some music. These conversations: This is the work. This is how we heal."
Want to know more about African American contributions to Southern cooking? Dig in:
Books (note: some are out of print, but available through used book stores):
- The African American Heritage Cookbook: Traditional Recipes & Fond Remembrances - Carolyn Quick Tillery
- Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time - Adrian Miller (Coming August 15)
- Mama Dip's Kitchen - Mildred Council
- The Taste of Southern Cooking - Edna Lewis
- High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America - Jessica B. Harris
- Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America - Frederick Douglass Opie
- A Taste of Heritage: The New African American Cuisine - Toni Tipton-Martin and Joe Randall
- The Dooky Chase Cookbook - Leah Chase
Blogs and Websites: