You’ll see red — in a good way.
Juneteenth food history reflects centuries-old history, tradition, and symbolism. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers rode to Galveston, Texas and told slaves that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — over two years prior. Slaveowners had withheld news of their emancipation. This was fully two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Since that date, Juneteenth (a combination of June and nineteenth) has become a celebratory day within the African-American community. Evolving over the centuries, Juneteenth celebrations include parades, parties, prayer, and (of course) Juneteenth food.
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Juneteenth Food History
Juneteenth food stands rooted in culture, history, and community. According to Juneteenth.com:
Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations, such as strawberry soda pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors . . . Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.
Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish . . . A true Juneteenth celebrations left visitors well satisfied and with enough conversation to last until the next.
Red food became another important fixture. Common red foods seen at Juneteenth celebrations include red soda or lemonade, red velvet cake, and watermelon. (Plus barbecue and great sides.)
Why is some Juneteenth food red? History offers several explanations. According to culinary historian Michael Twitty in Afroculinaria:
The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century. For both of these cultures the color red is the embodiment of spiritual power and transformation. Enslavement narratives from Texas recall an African ancestor being lured using red flannel cloth, and many of the charms and power objects used to manipulate invisible forces required a red handkerchief.
Other sources posit that red symbolizes the blood of the generations of slaves who were tortured and who perished. Additionally, red may derive from West African Asante and Yoruba peoples’ traditional offerings of animal blood to their ancestors and gods.
Juneteenth continues to become a more recognized holiday outside the African-American community. Knowing Juneteenth food history helps celebrate the day even more.