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Upcoming Black History Month dinners explore intersection of plant history, cuisine

The cuisines of the African diaspora tell the story of how food plants native to Africa have, across generations, remained central to the foods that Black communities celebrate.

Throughout Black History Month, Cornell Dining is offering a series of dinners featuring its take on traditional dishes of African communities and cultures around the world, including across Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean. In partnership with student organizations and feedback from Cornell students, Cornell Dining has recently added three more dinners to the schedule.

The various menus will feature Jamaican cuisine, including Sk Khazana, Escovitch, Fried Plantains, and Pineapple Coconut Cake; Cuban & Puerto Rican cuisine, such as Cuban Sofrito Chicken, Puerto Rican Pork Pernil, Tofu Cubano Sandwiches, Arroz Amarillo, & Puerto Rican Budin; and Soul Food, including Braised Oxtail, Shrimp and Grits, Vegetarian Gumbo, Mac and Cheese, and Collard Greens with ham hocks.

Guests at some of the dinners will have an opportunity to meet representatives from Black Students United and other student organizations to learn more about their efforts and impact on campus. Sharifa Wip, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Black Student Empowerment, will also be available at some of the events to speak with students about her new office and its program offerings.

We've also partnered with the Cornell Botanic Gardens to introduce students to their exhibition, “Seeds of Survival and Celebration: Plants and the Black Experience.” The exhibition, at the gardens’ Nevin Welcome Center, includes an outdoor plant display during the growing season, an audio tour and an indoor exhibit, all describing plants that are significant to the Black experience in the Americas, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. Staff from the Botanic Gardens will be at the February 8th dinner at Cook House Dining Room to talk about the project.

Sponsored by Black Students United, the dinners — held in nine of Cornell Dining’s residential dining rooms during February — carry themes such as Caribbean or Moroccan cuisine; Jamaican, East African, Creole, or Haitian fare; or Gold Coast, North African, or West African inspirations.

The dinners have become an annual collaboration with Black Students United. Cornell Dining’s chefs prepare menu items that will be new to many students, while incorporating dishes that those who’ve explored Caribbean or even Southern U.S. cuisines will recognize.

“We’re grateful to Black Students United for collaborating with us on this month’s events,” said Paul Muscente, director of Cornell Dining. “Our culinary team loves the opportunity to explore cuisines from around the world, and Black History Month offers a chance to visit a real variety of cultures and prepare traditional foods from these communities.”