Delicious food and distinctive forms of writing were the themes as members of the Sag Harbor community celebrated Black History Month on Sunday at separate events held at the Bay Street Theater and the John Jermain Memorial Library.“At Our Table: Sharing Diversity, Traditions and Culture Through Food,” was the title of a panel discussion at Bay Street, where food experts representing different cultures discussed how food and culinary practices have informed history.
According to Kim Folks, head of programs and community outreach for Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, this was the second time the manor’s educational farm has hosted an event at Bay Street for Black History Month.
“I think that there’s an enormous opportunity through food and through history and through culture to come to one table and to share in a way that you really can’t in a lot of ways,” Ms. Folks said. “I think it’s an important look back on how things have evolved and where we’re going, which is very much a part of what Sylvester Manor does, because food has always been a huge part.
Ms. Folks explained that Sylvester Manor was once a slave plantation that grew provisions for ships used in international trade and has now come full circle to being used for an active community-supported agriculture program.
“Food is a wonderful way to bring people together and talk about similarities and differences on a more neutral level,” Ms. Folks said.
The manor was represented by its co-founder and chief ambassador, Bennett Konesni, who spoke about the culture of food in his own family’s Polish lineage, including roasted lamb and kielbasa.
“Food is one of the cornerstones of culture and the way that we grow food, prepare food and share food impacts almost all areas of our lives,” he said. “It reflects who we are and what we believe in. It connects with economics, politics, religion, gender, race, all of those things are part of the puzzle that food is at the core of. We are what we eat.”
Another one of the panelists was Tatiana Tucci, a resident of Springs and board member of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island. Ms. Tucci spoke about Colombian traditions involving food and family, including the various uses of the sauce called Sudado, along with the cultural transition she faced when she first came to America 17 years ago.
“I refuse to give up my heritage in the way that I cook, but I had to adapt a lot of my recipes and a lot of ways that I cook before using what I have available here. Food is an opportunity to bring us all together. When we sit at dinner, we talk about our days, about our morals, about what’s going on in our lives. I can never conceive a life without food or cooking with my family and sharing that not only with them but with others.”
Also on the panel was Josephine Smith, director of the Shinnecock Nation’s cultural resource department, and Diane Goldstein Fish, a historian speaking about the food of colonial times. Ms. Smith, who has been a food vendor at Native American powwows throughout New England and Long Island, talked about her memories of picking blackberries on reservations when she was a child, and what has happened to the diet of Native Americans, especially since so much of their land has been lost.
“The land is what we no longer have access to because of the development and the pollution,” she said, “and the impact it’s made on the native diet—that’s why it’s so important that we do take care of the land and the water, it’s incredibly important to our people.”
Ms. Fish spoke about traditional colonial ways of preparing food and said she hopes that cooking that way would put people into the mindset of someone living during colonial times.
“My goal is to give them a window, to make them have a sense of what it was like or what things tasted like during that time,” she said.
The food panel was hosted by the Eastville Community Historical Society in partnership with the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm of Shelter Island, and the panel was moderated by the society’s executive director, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key.
Meanwhile, farther up Main Street was the eighth annual African-American Read-In at the John Jermain Memorial Library, where some of about two dozen people in attendance read from works by African-American writers that had an impact on their lives.
One of the readers was Gloria Brown, whose choice was the original black folktale that was the basis for the Nat King Cole song “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” about a monkey who tricks a rather mischievous buzzard to fly right and not use him as a piece of food, an act of wit and defiance.
Connecting to that was Terry Fraser’s reading of James Baldwin’s comments from a 1962 interview with The New York Times when asked why his book “Another Country” was so influential. Mr. Fraser didn’t mince Baldwin’s words.
“I try to write the way jazz musicians sound, aiming at what Henry James called ‘perception at the pitch of passion,’” Mr. Fraser read from the interview.
Others read excerpts of stories that had inspired them. Bill Chaleff read an excerpt from a Ta-Nehisi Coates book, “Between the World and Me,” which is meant to be a letter to the contemporary writer’s young son. The excerpt details an incident when Mr. Coates and his son were leaving a screening of the film “Howard’s Moving Castle” on the Upper West Side, when his son was shoved by a woman and an argument ensued, leaving Mr. Coates feeling threatened. Mr. Chaleff explained that Mr. Coates told the story “out of a need of absolution.”
The Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton read a poem by June Jordan that covered harsh topics like race, the female body, rape and how often people look away from the horrors other people deal with.
“We are the wrong people of the wrong skin on the wrong continent, and what in the hell is everybody being reasonable about?” asked Ms. Jordan’s poem.
Jackie Vaughan had kicked off the Read-In by talking about her grandparents coming to Harlem from Montserrat, a small Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles in the British West Indies. She described life in Harlem during the 1930s and how different it was from the Southern culture of the time, from the focus on religion to clothing made from the same roll of cloth.
“We were as poor as church mice, but every house had an upright piano,” she said. “We would gather at homes for music, because that was part of our life.”