This week a California elementary school got into some trouble for a Black History Month lunch menu, which included fried chicken, corn bread and watermelon. For the last few years, one of these menus has made its way to the Internet every February and received some backlash. For the most part I think these menus are honest attempts at celebrating Black History Month and do not find the general idea of them offensive. February is an opportunity to celebrate Black history and culture. Food, primarily soul food, is a huge part of our culture and has strong roots in our history. African slaves were given the scraps from their white masters for food. With a bit of creativity, slaves turned these scraps into edible dishes that still appear on African American dinner tables today. My favorite example of this is pig guts, which are doctored up and called chitlins. I personally have never eaten chitlins, but I appreciate the history behind it.
For those who were offended, we have to remember that we celebrate every holiday or occasion with food. Holidays like Cinco De Mayo are not complete without a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant for tacos and margaritas. St. Patrick’s day is full of green foods and typical Irish fare. Having a soul food menu for Black History month seems to be the same idea. Now I do take issue with the addition of watermelon on the lunch menu. If you are acknowledging African American history with this menu, then how could you miss the part with Sambo, Mammy and a pickaninny eating watermelon? The connection between African Americans and watermelon is generally offensive! Personally the only connection I make in my mind with watermelon and black folks is the picture above. The cooks in my family, whom I affectionately call the bootleg caterers, specialize in all things soul food and I cannot say that watermelon is a fixture on their menu. So the lesson here is celebratory Black History month menus are okay, but avoid foods that some could deem offensive, like watermelon.