March 08, 2021

Louisville podcast explores how race impacts food

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — It all started with ice cream.

After working at Louisville Cream in NuLu for a year, Kelly Nusz noticed a pattern she was too shy to ask anyone about. After a Google search didn’t answer her question, she finally decided to ask her friend and boss, Louisville Cream owner Darryl Goodner.

“Is butter pecan ice cream a ‘Black thing’?”

Goodner laughed.

“Of course it is.”

“Why?” she asked.

Well, Goodner didn’t really know what to say. He’d grown up eating it and had fond memories of the cheap ice cream he’d get from the store and share with his family. It was the flavor his relatives always gravitated toward.

But was it part of his heritage as a Black man in America?

That question launched a conversation, which led to research, which led to some answers and more questions. What made a food a “Black” food versus a “white” food? And what foods that we eat today have a racist history attached to them that people don’t know about?

Goodner and Nusz started the Butter Pecan Podcast to share what they’d found with others. The podcast, released weekly on Spotify and Apple podcasts, discusses the history of certain foods, their racist past, how systemic racism still impacts modern-day diets and how people can change the dynamic of stigmatized food with new recipes.

Since its launch in October, Goodner and Nusz have delved into the history of ice cream and the detailed, complex history of Coca-Cola, which was founded by Confederate soldier John Stith Pemberton, and used to contain cocaine.

They’ve learned a lot about food history in American, but the duo is still not quite sure why butter pecan ice cream is a “Black thing.” In some folklore from the Jim Crow South, Black people weren’t allowed to eat vanilla ice cream, but this isn’t historically verified.

“We don’t have a definitive answer from the research, but it seems to be Black people chose whatever was the other things around,” Goodner said. “Looking at the South particularly, the flavor butter pecan makes sense. So many pecans are grown in Georgia.”

However, it is known that a Black man named Alfred L. Cralle invented the ice cream scooper, and a 12-year-old enslaved boy, Edmond Albius, discovered the way to cultivate vanilla beans. Nusz shares these facts and more on the Butter Pecan podcast.

The podcast, which currently has nine episodes, offers a mixture of historic research, commentary, comparison to modern-day events and analysis of modern-day foods.

In addition to the podcast episodes, Goodner cooks dishes inspired by the conversation, like a green tomato pie and a pecan pie sweetened with Coca-Cola, and shares the recipes on the podcast website.

Sometimes the show invites guests for interviews, such as Shauntrice Martin, a food access activist who recently opened a grocery store in the West End.

Not every fact is about Black entrepreneurs, though. Nusz and Goodner delve into the history of race riots, massacres and generations of white business owners discriminating against Black customers in various ways.

The duo discusses, for example, the original lyrics to the ice cream truck song, which are so virulently racist the podcast includes a content warning before Goodner reads out the lyrics.

Nusz said her biggest goal with the podcast is to get people to listen to history. She describes the podcast as “a form of protest that educates, enlightens and literally (and figuratively) feeds our audience.”

“There are plenty of people out there who don’t believe racism is systemic, and I want to give example after example of how it is,” she said. “I want to present it in this approachable way so that someone can take it and sit with it and maybe do their own research and see how that could be true.”

Nusz said some of the food-related histories may be old and buried, but it still matters because it echoes things still happening today, such as mockery in blackface, redlining and food insecurity in majority-Black neighborhoods. She’s enjoying delving into the history of foods as mundane as ice cream or mac and cheese and finding complex histories behind them.

In 2021, the Butter Pecan Podcast co-hosts plan to delve into topics such as dieting while Black and a mini-series on Black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Nusz said she and Goodner are having all the foods they make photographed and hope to publish a cookbook in the future.

“Our follower base has been growing, little by little, though it’s been pretty insulated to people who were following Louisville Cream or friends of friends,” Goodner said. “But we got new mics and we’re trying to build a studio. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Nusz stressed that while some foods may be tied into racist history, that doesn’t mean we can’t eat and enjoy them today.

“We’re not canceling these things, we’re just seeing them as what they are, and we want to look at these things fully,” she said. “And that’s the process of looking back at history. We’re not trying to cancel it. We’re trying to see it for what it is.”

Visit the podcast’s website at butterpecanpod.com/episodes.