Every Nation Has Its Dish

Black Bodies and Black Food in Twentieth-Century America

By Jennifer Jensen Wallach

264 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4521-6
    Published: January 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4522-3
    Published: November 2018

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach's nuanced history of black foodways across the twentieth century challenges traditional narratives of "soul food" as a singular style of historical African American cuisine. Wallach investigates the experiences and diverse convictions of several generations of African American activists, ranging from Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois to Mary Church Terrell, Elijah Muhammad, and Dick Gregory. While differing widely in their approaches to diet and eating, they uniformly made the cultivation of "proper" food habits a significant dimension of their work and their conceptions of racial and national belonging. Tracing their quests for literal sustenance brings together the race, food, and intellectual histories of America.

Directly linking black political activism to both material and philosophical practices around food, Wallach frames black identity as a bodily practice, something that conscientious eaters not only thought about but also did through rituals and performances of food preparation, consumption, and digestion. The process of choosing what and how to eat, Wallach argues, played a crucial role in the project of finding one's place as an individual, as an African American, and as a citizen.

About the Author

Jennifer Jensen Wallach, associate professor of history at the University of North Texas, is the author or editor of several books, including Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop.

For more information about Jennifer Jensen Wallach, visit the Author Page.


“A deeply researched, highly analytical, sophisticated study of how African Americans thought about food in the twentieth century. She deploys manuscript collections, a wide array of magazines and newspapers, published primary sources, including cookbooks, and fiction by African American authors to construct her thoughtful argument.”--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“In this brilliantly researched and engaging study, Jennifer Jensen Wallach demonstrates that the most basic human need—feeding one’s body—had extraordinary personal and political valences for African Americans in the long 20th century.”--Journal of Social History

“A valuable and welcome addition [to] the growing historiography of Black foodways in the United States.”--Western Historical Quarterly

“A landmark book. Wallach examines how conscientious blacks ate and how the work of eating intersected with the political work of social reform, offering new ways of understanding the massive importance of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, among many others. Speaking to African American culinary heterogeneity, this book situates food studies as essential to understanding black political life and the drive for full citizenship.”—Psyche Williams-Forson, author of Building Houses out of Chicken Legs

Every Nation Has Its Dish tells a nuanced history of twentieth-century black foodways that goes far beyond the often nostalgic story of soul food as classical African American fare. In a significant contribution to food studies as well as African American studies, Wallach uncovers the robust discourses and wide range of food practices within black communities and among black intellectuals debating what was appropriate food for black bodies to consume, and why it was so.”—Angela Jill Cooley, author of To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South