What I Eat

‘It’s in my DNA.’

Carla Hall


Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Americans, perhaps more than people who live anywhere else in the world, have a particularly complicated relationship with food. Our melting pot, made up of the cuisines of those who came here, both willingly and not, is filled with a dash of this, a sprinkling of that, and an endless array of ingredients from around the world that somehow ended up on the same continent. We fiddle, adapt, and fuse — or appropriate — in our restless quest for unique flavors. As Americans, maybe it’s just in our DNA to never be content with the old, always searching for the new.

I grew up loving my granny’s cornbread, sizzling in a cast-iron skillet as it came out of the oven just before we sat down to Sunday supper. Tender greens swimming in savory potlikker, smothered chicken with milk gravy and liberally seasoned with black pepper, tomatoes fresh from the garden, peeled and then dusted with just enough salt to contrast their natural sweetness. It was soul food, pure and simple, the food of my proud Southern heritage, created by the slaves from whom I’m descended and lovingly cooked by my grandmother’s hands.

In 2010, I decided to dig deeper, beyond my American roots, to find out who I really am. Using an African Ancestry DNA test kit, I discovered that my lineage traces back to the Yoruba people of Nigeria and the Bubi, an ethnic group that has lived on Bioko…