March 8, 2016

UM Hosts Culinary Historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris

Montevallo, Ala. – Acclaimed journalist and culinary historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris recently visited the University of Montevallo as a part of a visiting lecture series curated by Dr. Myron M. Beasley, the Paschel V. Vacca Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Harris delivered a lecture entitled “A Sea Change: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” and met with students and faculty during an exclusive book signing at Eclipse Coffee and Books during her visit.

Recalling the history of the slave trade of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, Harris eloquently explained African influences that affect our culture today, most especially pertaining to the culinary discipline.

“There is more that joins than separates us,” Harris expounded as she recalled the history of traditional African dishes that have since become American staples. The historian outlined the past origin of each individual ingredient and the techniques contributed to traditional African dishes such as gumbo, fritters and red beans and rice.

The “sea changes” of culinary traditions, music, dance, words and spirituality that traveled with the slaves to the Americas, Harris explained, are the umbilicus that connects us to African culture. “There is more at the bedrock of our souls that joins us than we realize,” Harris stated.

Harris is the author of twelve critically acclaimed cookbooks documenting the culture of Africa and the Americas, particularly the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. Her most recent book, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, was the International Association for Culinary Professionals 2012 prize winner for culinary history.

A 2010 James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in the United States inductee, Harris has received the Lafcadio Hearn award as a Louisiana culinary icon from the John Folse Culinary Academy at Nicholls State University and a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization she assisted in founding with local Birmingham culinary icon, Frank Stitt.

Harris holds a Ph.D. from NYU and degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Queens College and The Université de Nancy, France. She has been a professor of English at Queens College C.U.N.Y for more than four decades and has also lectured on African-American food and culture at numerous institutions throughout the United States and abroad.

About The University of Montevallo


The University of Montevallo seeks to be unique in higher education in Alabama, by providing students from throughout the state an affordable, geographically accessible, “small college” public higher educational experience of high quality. Settled within an atmosphere of national historic beauty and offering a tradition of innovative cultural expression, we seek to provide professional programs supported by a broad base of arts and sciences that are designed for intellectual and personal growth in the pursuit of meaningful employment and responsible, informed citizenship.