The James Beard Foundation announced today that culinary historian and author Jessica B. Harris, whose work focuses on food culture within the African diaspora, will be the recipient of its 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. In her almost five decades as a writer, Harris has written, edited and translated eighteen books, twelve of which document the foodways of the African Diaspora – a field in which she is one of a few experts. In 2019, Jessica Harris won the 2019 James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame.
In addition to her writing and journalism, Harris is the first African-American woman to address a graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America. She is also the founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) and is currently a contributing editor at Saveur and American Legacy.
When asked by TheHistoryMakers Digital Archive of her favorite food, she replied:
“I said okra. Why? Because okra is indigenous to Africa, and wherever you see okra in the world, Africa has been—that includes southern India where they call it bhindi…the Middle East…that includes the world; and so looking into this whole migration of foodstuffs and how this stuff gets out and gets into the ebb and flow and how it starts to transform things is really a way of looking at history.”
The James Beard Foundation Awards are the highest culinary honors in the American culinary world, and are often referred to as the “culinary Oscars.” James Beard had the first cooking show on television, was the author of 22 cookbooks, wrote a syndicated newspaper column, and ran an acclaimed cooking school out of his townhouse in New York City. He was also the subject of an American Masters documentary.
The awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 3rd in Chicago.