Baking a Cake for the Afrofuturism Potluck

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Overhead view of a square tres leches cake topped with toasted coconut.
For Stefani Renée, the future of Black food will be multicultural like her cornmeal tres leches cake, which fuses together the traditions of Latin America and the American South. (Savor and Sage)

A crash course on Afrofuturism might include Black Panther’s portrayal of a utopian, techno-centric Wakanda, the science fiction novels of Octavia Butler and a Missy Elliott music video—all visions of a liberated future seen through a Black lens. 

But what will Black people be eating in this thriving, revolutionary future? 

That’s the question that Eat the Culture, a collective of Black food bloggers, explores this month through a series of Afrofuturism-themed social media posts and online gatherings, including a Feb. 24 collaboration with the magazine Cuisine Noir. Framed as a “Virtual Potluck,” the series celebrates Black History Month by remixing traditional dishes of the African diaspora to create new recipes that are artful and, at times, deeply political: A plate of stewed crab and grits fuses together African and Puerto Rican traditions. A coconut rice pudding doubles as a commentary on gentrification. 

“It’s this intersection of technology, culture, innovation and politics,” co-organizer Stefani Renée, of the Bay Area–based blog Savor and Sage, says of Afrofuturism. “How do we explore that through food?”

The event stems from a similar virtual potluck that a handful of prominent Black food bloggers—including Aaron Hutcherson (of the blog The Hungry Hutch) and Meiko Temple (of Mieko and the Dish)—put together each year for Black History Month starting in 2017. Renée, a relative newcomer to food blogging, joined in the past two years and started talking to other participants about expanding the group’s efforts beyond just one or two virtual events each year. In particular, the group wanted to create a support system for Black food bloggers, given the unique set of challenges that they face.

Overhead view of a plate of tempura-fried okra served over a bright orange pool of confit tomatoes
Food blogger Kenneth Temple's riff on stewed okra includes fine dining touches like confit tomatoes and smoked sausage "dust." (Kenneth Temple)

“Folks don’t know that we’re here,” Renée says. “When we start looking at who gets the most exposure, it’s usually white female food bloggers—and they’re getting attention for foods that aren’t necessarily authentic or native to them.”


Meanwhile, Renée says, Black and other BIPOC food bloggers struggle to get that same level of recognition and, just as importantly, to land the kind of lucrative sponsorship deals that make food blogging a viable full-time career. Eat the Culture was created as a platform for Black food bloggers to share that kind of information with one another—a place where they could access tutorials on shooting food videos and get tips about search engine optimization. As Renée puts it, “How do we break these barriers and create our own space?”

This year’s Afrofuturism-themed potluck is one of the collective’s first signature events. Renée sees it as an extension of the work of her own blog, which focuses on updating and expanding people’s definition of “soul food” to include things other than just fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. “Black food isn’t a monolith,” she says. “There are so many different aspects to Black food that people don’t know.”

In presenting a vision for the future of Black food, several of the dishes that Eat the Culture members created for the virtual potluck explicitly challenge the idea that food with African origins isn’t “refined.” There’s a modern take on West African oxtail pepper soup made with yam gnocchi, for instance, and a version of smothered okra that features fine dining elements like confit tomatoes and smoked sausage “dust.” 

Three portions of rice pudding served inside coconut shells, arranged on a wooden cutting board.
Meiko and the Dish's modern take on sombi, the Senegalese coconut rice pudding, is a commentary on gentrification. (Meiko and the Dish)

Several of the recipes veganize dishes traditionally made with meat—a rebuttal, Renée says, to the notion that “Black people don’t really eat vegetables.” Others offer pointed political commentary: Meiko and the Dish’s aforementioned coconut rice pudding adds a crème brûlée–style burnt sugar topping to a traditional Senegalese dish, thereby mirroring “the concept of gentrification, the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in and typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.

For her own contribution to the Afrofuturism potluck, Renée did a riff on cornbread soaked in buttermilk, a very traditional, “old-school” snack that she remembers eating in her Southern grandmother’s kitchen when she was a kid. Renée’s version reimagines the treat as a tres leches cake, soaking the cornmeal cake in buttermilk, coconut milk and sweet condensed milk, then topping the whole thing with toasted coconut. The dessert is meant to feel new and modern, but it’s also a nod to the often forgotten history of Mexicans of African descent, who have long fought for recognition in their home country.

“It’s a combination of different cultures,” Renée says of the cake. “That’s what Afrofuturism means to me.”

Throughout the month of February, Eat the Culture will highlight Afrofuturism-themed recipes on its Instagram page. The page will also offer details about other virtual events once they’ve been finalized, including the Cuisine Noir collaboration.