June 23, 2021

So you want to celebrate Juneteenth? What foods do you serve?

An IKEA store in Georgia sent out this email, the NY Post reports

“To honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made, we observe Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Look out for a special menu on Saturday which will include: fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, potato salad, collard greens, candied yams.”

That, we're told, was "intensely problematic." But what foods would be right? Or is the whole idea of a food-based celebration problematic? Is it enough just to exclude the watermelon? Or is it also the fried chicken? Or is it everything?

We pretty much all know — don't we? — that Juneteenth isn't going to be like St. Patrick's Day. We like to say: "Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day." There's exaggerated Irishness everywhere, and everyone is encouraged to eat the most stereotypically Irish foods and to drink Irish drinks to stereotypically Irish excess. Maybe that needs to be problematized. 

But whatever... obviously Juneteenth isn't going to work like St. Patrick's Day. I hesitate even to type the phrase "Everyone is black on Juneteenth." It's so wrong.

Still: We've got a new holiday. There needs to be a way to celebrate it, unless it's going to be a extension of Black History Month — a somber observance. To celebrate, we'll need foods. But if the attitude is worrying about giving offense, how will it be a celebration? It really is intensely problematic.


Ann Althouse said...

Ron writes:

According to wikipedia

"The holiday is also a celebration of soul food and other food with African-American influences. In Tourism Review International, Anne Donovan and Karen DeBres write that "Barbecue is the centerpiece of most Juneteenth celebrations".[

And the wikipedia entry on soul food has a picture of a plate with fried chicken, mac and cheese, and other assorted sides.

Juneteenth takes place in the summer and was originally mostly centered in the Southern US, of course watermelon is going to be served.

Ann Althouse said...

Temujin writes:

I dunno. I might get kicked off of Twitter for this, but then, this isn't Twitter (thankfully). I suspect that if you went to any Black family gatherings around a park or beachside, or in someone's backyard- either on Juneteenth or any random summer day, you would see a lot of these foods, if not all of them. Here's more: If you did the same sneak viewing of White family gatherings, you would see many of the same foods, if not all of them. I know when my wife and I go out to our local BBQ joint, that's pretty much our dinner (maybe not all of it, but much of it). I have to tell you, that menu sounded great to me.

It's not an insult to recognize and enjoy the foods of other subcultures. And if the 'problem' is identifying watermelon or fried chicken as a 'Black food' I'd say that they should just go out, go to some family gatherings, and let the evidence of their senses dictate reality. Subcultures fill our days with good food. It's not a crime to point out where they came from or who tends to eat them regularly. Anyone reading this love a nice stacked corned beef sandwich on good Jewish rye bread with hot deli mustard? Or a container of rigatoni with roasted red peppers and sausage? Or a taco bar set up? Where have we gone when you can love one subculture's foods daily, but you cannot love a specific subculture's foods, or even recognize them as a subculture's foods without it being "problematic".

It's not. The only thing problematic these days is the lack of our media to think clearly, and acknowledge what's in front of their faces.

One other thing, the idea that 'everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day' is true. Everyone is- for that day. To excess in many cases. I suspect that will not be allowed to be true with Juneteenth. In today's climate, I don't see White people or Asian people being allowed to celebrate Juneteenth. I see today's Black activists claiming it for themselves, not as a celebration for all of us, but for them alone. And I see many others following the lead of these activists. At least for a few years.

Ann Althouse said...

Gary writes:

"But whatever... Still: We've got a new holiday..."

You're blathering now which is unusual for you. No we don't. We do have another Federal non-productive down-day annually but comparing this specific historic ethnic holiday to other more generic ethnic "holidays" doesn't hold.

My main issue, is the problematic official name of the holiday ~ Juneteenth National Independence Day. IMO, the descriptor "national" with the name "Independence Day" is reserved for the July 4th calendar day - forever. I'm seriously suspicious of the motivations behind this encroachment. I'm fine with any of the historical based naming that's preferred :: Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Black Independence Day, etc. So, they can just get the hell off my lawn and say off - which leads me to -

My secondary issue is inclusiveness. Here in Buffalo (a Great Lakes, midwest city) we've always been a multi-ethnic event and summer festival town. Juneteenth often hit the same weekend as the gigantic (600K - 700K) juried art festival and some years back when the Juneteenth festival was getting started, that's were I ended up enjoying myself a few times. I can't imagine going to a Juneteenth festival these days - let's just say the ethnic culture is much too exotic for me these days...

..but maybe I'm just getting old. After 30 years of living, working and raising children right in the city at a stoplight at a major intersection, when we retired 5 years ago we quite consciously elected to abandon the city and move out of that blue morass into the county to a tony little village beyond the suburbs in one of the most Repub Congressional districts in the country. Unfortunately it's still in NY, but it's a quite different world anyway.

Ann Althouse said...

Ron links to a Pop Sugar article:

"If you're looking to celebrate Juneteenth with food, here is a list of delicious dishes that my family loves.... Watermelon is one of the oldest food traditions for Juneteenth. The fruit is eaten as is or can be made into a salad or even a drink. Watermelon is in abundance in June, making it a must have for any and every Juneteenth celebration. Although Black people eating watermelon has become a racist trope in America, on Juneteenth, watermelon was eaten in celebration of newfound freedom for the enslaved, as well as for the hope for future prosperity."

This makes me think: Let's wait and see what black Americans tell us they'd like to see us do. If things like that prevail, then fine, we can do that if we also want to. But until there's a strong message from black Americans that they want us making a celebration out of Juneteenth by eating watermelon (or whatever), I would recommend that white people stick to... well, their ordinary summer outdoor foods. But, you might say, that would include watermelon! Yeah, just find something else, okay? Meade tells me June 19th is too early for locally grown watermelon anyway. At least in the north.

Ann Althouse said...

Juneteenth is supposed to make black people feel good. That's not going to be easy, because it brings up slavery. We're celebrating the end of something that shouldn't have happened in the first place. It's not about good but the end of bad. To connect with the meaning of it, you have to think about the bad and then generate joy out of the ending of the bad. How do you do that? And, separately, how do you do that if you are not black? You don't want to make things worse!

Ann Althouse said...

Chris writes:

Serious Eats, one of the mainstream "woke" foodie sites, published an article "What to eat on Juneteenth" including watermelon, fried chicken, pulled pork and gumbo. Not a peep of protest or objection.

I notice all the references to watermelon have it cut up as part of an ingredient in salad or poke or something. That might be more tasteful?

Ann Althouse said...

Dwight writes:

Wow I laughed out loud at that one. Hard to believe that made it out in this day and age. Heck the golfer Fuzzy Zoeller was almost cancelled in 1997 when he brought up fried chicken and collard greens in relation to Tiger Woods.

On a lighter note my cousin's wedding reception in 1977 served spaghetti and fried chicken. She being of Italian heritage and he African American.

Ann Althouse said...

Similarly, Oh Yea writes:

I am always amused by these references to menus like the one described here as problematic. This is similar to the reaction to Fuzzy Zoeller's comments about the Masters Champion Dinner menu after Tiger won the first time. Substitute baked beans and coleslaw for the collard greens and you have the food for nearly every family get together when I was young. Trust me my grandmother and aunts were not doing any cultural appropriation when they were preparing the food for the family.

Ann Althouse said...

Leon writes:

"I would suggest if you want to cater a particular Juneteenth event going to a soul food restaurant and purchasing whatever they have on offer."

Yeah... help the local businesspeople.

Ann Althouse said...

James writes:

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, these dishes were called “soul food,” and celebrated as the native cuisine of African Americans. Now,apparently, they are racist. This is a good example of how progressives keep changing the definition of what is racist or otherwise offensive the better to distinguish the cool kids from us nerds who are just so five minutes ago.

Ann Althouse said...

I can see that progressives are draining the fun out of a lot of things, but I would just avoid looking for fun in Juneteenth if you're not a black person, unless you're taking the lead from black people who are including you. Be extra respectful. I just can't see any good reason not to do what you can to preserve whatever good feeling there is in this holiday that was designated in response to lobbying from black people.

Ann Althouse said...

Lane writes:

"We pretty much all know — don't we? — that Juneteenth isn't going to be like St. Patrick's Day." Why not? We eat stereotypical foods and drink on St. Patrick's Day and on Cinco De Mayo and during Octoberfest, I look at it as a celebration of cultures and not negative so why wouldn't anyone celebrate Juneteenth the same?

Because that's NOT what it is. It's not a celebration of a culture. It's a commemoration of emancipation. It's not a day to have fun fooling around with ethnicity! There's no standing tradition of doing that, as there is with St. Pat's and Cinco de Mayo and Octoberfest... and if those were new ideas today, we'd probably find them all problematic.

Ann Althouse said...

Two-eyed Jack writes:

I have this list of suggestions:

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God:
yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

Fun times.

Ann Althouse said...

Jack writes:

"If black people wanted others to be more sympathetic to them, then they should promote the idea that all people can be black for the day. It worked for St. Patrick’s Day - remember when there used to be anti-Irish sentiments? I think it’s also working for Hispanics on Cinco de Mayo. Keeping Juneteenth only for black people only reinforces the separateness of black people. It also feeds into a negative stereotype of being angry and resentful - not a sympathetic look."

It's very hard to see that happening. There's just too much bad feeling, especially when explicitly connected to slavery. Even if some black people thought this was a good strategy, you'd need most black people to encourage this.

Ann Althouse said...

Jon writes:

Last year my company made Juneteenth a paid holiday, and I was alone among basically all my friends/family in having that day off. It was an odd feeling - a holiday where I had no idea how to observe it. I thought it must have been a bit like how a new immigrant might feel coming here just in time for July 4th, or a Christian suddenly given the day off for Rosh Hashanah. In the case of Juneteenth I also have the sense that any act of observance aside from mortification would be viewed as inappropriate or offensive, and as a Lutheran I have an aversion to mortification for its own sake. In the end I did what I do for most summer holidays: slept in, relaxed around the pool, had a few beers. Might be offensive to some, but I didn't post pictures on social media. In that regard the closest analog might end up being Memorial Day, where most people enjoy the day off but don't make a big deal out of it, so as not to be seen as reveling in the thing that made it a holiday.

That sounds about right to me.

Ann Althouse said...

Clyde writes:

I'm a veteran. When Veterans Day comes around, it's a federal holiday for everyone, even those who are not veterans. I don't mind sharing my holiday with everyone. However, Juneteenth is a whole different situation. It's a holiday for black people to celebrate their ancestors' liberation from slavery over 150 years ago. I'm sure that the rest of us are supposed to spend the day somberly reflecting on the sins of our forefathers against black people, but I'm not going to do that. The ancestors of many white Americans had not even immigrated to the United States when the Civil War ended. This is the only federal holiday that is really only for a small part of the population. Even Martin Luther King day was ostensibly about equality and civil rights for all, although Dr. King's dream of a society where people are judged on their merits rather than their skin color has been turned on its head under the current administration. The only question is when other groups like Latinos, etc., come forward to demand "their" holidays. You know it's coming.

Ann Althouse said...

Joe writes:

Temujin writes: "I don't see White people or Asian people being allowed to celebrate Juneteenth."

All white people should celebrate it as the day white people (Lincoln and Union soldiers) freed blacks from the tyranny of the Democrat party.

Terrible idea to connect this to present-day partisan politics.

Ann Althouse said...

Tim writes:

That menu is familiar to any Southern rural family. Or alternatively, you could say to any poor Southern family. Fried chicken because everyone could and did raise chickens, both for eggs and as food, and all the rest because it could be grown or obtained easily and cheaply. And is still served at the good local BBQ places all over the south. And I suspect neither the black or white folks I know would mind that being the menu one iota. As for cutting up watermelon, that is NOT RIGHT. Cut it in slices, salt it, and hang off the porch with juice running down both cheeks and your chin. That is the only proper way to eat watermelon. And the salt was added because around here, if you spend time outdoors in the summertime, you need the salt.

Ann Althouse said...

DeepRunner writes:

So I heard over the weekend about IKEA doing that. My first thought was, "Cringe.": But ya know, all of that is a good base menu for soul food. Mighta traded the chicken out for ribs, since ribs don't always trigger the stereotype, and maybe banana pudding for the watermelon. They should have checked with some other folks before they did the celebration. But the menu...eh, it was fine, on further reflection.

According to the article, that was a big point in the criticism: They didn't have any black employees involved in the decisionmaking.

Ann Althouse said...

Jay writes:

Here’s an idea for Juneteenth food that I’m sure nobody will take up:

The Passover Seder is a celebration of the Jews’ emancipation from slavery. The six traditional foods served on the Seder plate have nothing to do with any popular Jewish foods. Instead, each of them are symbols for the experience of the Exodus.

I can’t begin to suggest what foods might serve to represent the events and emotions surrounding Juneteenth. I’m saying that they don’t need to be popular or stereotypical; just symbolic. And like a Seder, anyone from any background can be invited to that celebratory meal.

I think that is already happening. The Pop Sugar article linked above says: "One of the main themes associated with Juneteenth is the color red. “The red food traditions that you eat during the time of Juneteenth bring recognition to the bloodshed of the enslaved,” says Purdie."

Ann Althouse said...

Montgomery writes:

My first thought about this story is not just about a company serving what some people assume is "stereotypical" soul food on what is now a federal holiday honoring the end of slavery; rather it is criticsm of a company founded in a northern European country where the native population is whiter than white serving soul food on a federal holiday created for black Americans in an attempt to market and sell goods on this new holiday. And by marketing / selling goods on this federal holiday diverts attention away for the reason for the holiday and makes it just another excuse to market / sell items, just like on EVERY federal holiday on the calendar. Juneteenth will become just like Presidents Day and Veterans' Day, with no mail delivery and mostly only Federal Government offices and, depending on your location, state and local government offices closed. We will be bombarded by advertising on all platforms for cars, furniture, and just about everything else, annoying the hell out of most of the population, instead of celebrating the true meaning of the day (btw, I do thank Veterans for their service to our country on Veterans' Day, and don't patronize those companies attempting to capitalize on the holiday). As I am of northern European ancestry and work for an employer who currently isn't planning on giving me the day off, I have no reason to celebrate Juneteenth. Moreover, I don't begrudge those descendents of slaves that will be celebrating this holiday.

Ann Althouse said...

DeepRunner writes:

"What if it hadn't been IKEA? Since we're into discussing stereotypes, imagine the typical IKEA shopper, if you can. Upwardly mobile/striving white folk maybe? Now contrast that with, say, the WalMart shopper. Where I live, those shoppers tend more towards cultural diversity. What I'm getting at is, because it was a store that got its start in one of THE WHITEST nations on earth and likely has a more melanin-challenged clientele, that could have skewed some opinions.on the appropriateness of the menu."

Ann Althouse said...

Chris writes:

Commemorate, for me, is a better verb here than celebrate. I shall commemorate Juneteenth quietly, thoughtfully. (I might get KFC too, but not tell anyone why).

As for watermelon, I grew up eating it all the time, never knowing any racial meaning. We would save the rinds, and my mother would cut them up and make watermelon pickles.