Hello, wonderful witches!
If you’re a long-time reader of Kitchen Witch, you likely know of Dr. Julia Skinner. She writes amazing pieces for the newsletter, but also runs her own called Root: Historic Food for the Modern World. Right now, Julia is running a series named “Unplated,” where she speaks to “folks whose work intersects with food, but who work outside culinary spheres.” (Watch for the Kitchen Witch installation in February!)
Friends, can I tell you, the most recent interview she published is absolutely amazing. It’s with Rose McAdoo, a visual artist and pastry chef who brings light to global issues through desserts. McAdoo has lived in Antarctica and remote Alaska, cooking her way through both places, and recently started a series called “Dessert Stories” that themes desserts around environmental issues. Her most recent one used candy and cake to raise enthusiasm and awareness about glaciers.
If you have a moment, please give the interview a read. It was completely fascinating, and I was riveted for the length of it.
For today’s article, we explore Black cultural witchcraft practices — particularly the meaning of chicken hearts in one writer’s life and how those hearts affect teeth.
I Believe Poultry Hearts Bewitched My Teeth
By Ray Mwareya
I’m a Black immigrant to Canada, and I have an odd fear: eating poultry hearts.
Poultry hearts are easy to fry, cheap for us low-income earners on food-bank budgets, and delicious. However, they are a no-go for people like me. In my culture, it’s believed that if you eat poultry hearts, your teeth will fall out one by one until they vanish. The ancestors will simply bewitch you.
Here’s the thing about my background. I’m Black and from Africa and now live in North America. In my particular African belief system, our family names are tied to animal symbols. For example, my family name is “MWAREYA.” This means my surname is tied to “Poultry Hearts.” So, I must never cook or fry the heart of poultry. My neighbor’s surname could be attached to “Pig Leg.” That means they must never greedily cook and feast on trotters. By frying poultry hearts, I cook my family spirit and my ancestors’ dignity, and disturb their honor. They cannot rest in peace while I burn their identity in a frying pan.
When I moved to Canada, I mistakenly believed my ancestors’ energy wouldn’t follow me to North America. So I became defiant. I began indulging in Walmart chicken hearts, frying and topping them with Jamaican chili sauce.
Now, my ancestors punish me with teeth loss. My incisors have rapidly fallen out over the last two years, despite a mounting dental cleaning bill and obsessive twice-a-day flossing. I’m afraid my ancestors are on my case, punishing me until I surrender eating the delicacy. I suffer because I cooked my family’s guardian spirits. It’s an insult to my ancestors.
The irony of it is that no dentist in North America will believe my ridiculous-sounding reasons for teeth loss. My dentist is trying to figure it out, wondering out loud to me, “Why, despite such aggressive flossing, can your teeth barely hold in place?” But he doesn’t believe my cultural truth.
To be honest, in 2015 — when I finally decided to fry poultry hearts in defiance of family beliefs — I thought my culture was hogwash. The connection between frying poultry hearts and teeth loss seemed silly to me. Emigration from Africa to North America gave me bravado, the courage to throw those beliefs out the window. And now I face the consequences.
Regardless, I continue eating them. My teeth have fallen out anyway, so I no longer have something to fear or save. I have crossed the red line.
Ray Mwareya is a fellow of the World Ethical Data Foundation and a technology journalist. Follow him on Twitter @rmwareya.
In the next issue…
Paid subscribers, watch your inbox for a special Imbolc issue coming up. Everyone else — next we’ll be reading about goblin fruit.
See you then!