food · food history · memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty

It’s not hugely often that I’m in time to spot Jewish books on NetGalley (I’m deeply realistic about what I have time for, so I tend to not browse the NetGalley shelves too often!), but I was thrilled when I happened to be clicking through and stumbled upon Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty (Amistad Press, 2022). I was so excited when I received notice that my request had been approved. Into the world of Black Jewish cooking I dove!

Michael Twitty is a chef and a writer, living at the intersection of Black and Jewish in a country (and a world) that doesn’t have an excess amount of kindness for either group. That said, despite people’s confusion, despite people not understanding and deliberately not bothering to learn, being Black and Jewish co-exists beautifully together and is expressed lovingly in many ways, chiefly in the food that Mr. Twitty cooks. From the traditional dishes of various African countries, to the meals cooked up in the slave cabins of his ancestors, to the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions that are now his traditions, Michael Twitty finds deep meaning in the art and flavors of cooking and how his many beautiful identities color his culinary creations.

Part-memoir, part academic history, part exploration of the culture of food and how our identity contributes to what we cook (and how Black identity in particular brings not just baggage, but joy and beauty), Koshersoul defies genre – maybe making the point that those of us with multiple intersecting identities defy traditional classification as well.

Michael Twitty is a talented, eloquent writer. His writing is scholarly enough to challenge my exhausted, pandemic-addled brain, but friendly and comfortable enough that reading this is joyful. He writes of his life, his ancestors, with a deep reverence, and the same reverence is afforded to the food he creates and serves. To him, cooking is an art and deserves the same respect afforded to works of art, and his veneration of tradition has made me consider cooking in a different way: less of a chore, more of an act of worship, a respect for those who came before us, a celebration of who we are and our survival over the centuries. They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.

Koshersoul wanders from subject to subject; it doesn’t follow any linear structure, but that’s part of what keeps it so interesting. His interviews with other Black Jews and chefs (many of whom I already follow on Twitter, so it was great seeing their words in long form!) intrigued me, but I also deeply appreciated reading Mr. Twitty’s experiences, difficult as some of them must have been to recount (racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in the Jewish community). The book is also heavy on Judaism and his life within it, so that absolutely called to me and made my own soul happy.

Koshersoul is available from all major retailers on August 9th (and it contains recipes!).

Visit Michael W. Twitty’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

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