Eat It, Virginia


Virginia is the birthplace of American BBQ, mac and cheese, and a #1 food podcast

Posted at 10:42 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 11:04:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Debra Freeman believes more people need to know about the contribution African Americans have made to American cuisine.

That's one reason why she helped create the "Setting the Table" podcast.

"'Setting the Table' is the exploration of African American foodways," she said. "Honestly, it's just conversations over 10 different episodes about how African Americans have shaped the foundation of American foods."

And as is the case with much of early American history, Virginia played a large role in that development.

"Virginia is so vital to so many American foods. Barbecue started here, macaroni and cheese, ice cream started here, fried chicken started here," she said. "These are things that folks aren't really talking about. But Virginians really need to be proud of. All of these great Southern and American dishes that everyone still eats today, 400 years later, they all came from Virginia."

Deb Freeman via Joshua Fitzwater 01.jpg
Deb Freeman

Freeman said American barbecue was created in Virginia thanks to the Native Americans, Europeans, and enslaved Africans who lived here at the time.

"The commingling of those three people was not happening anywhere else in the world. So the method of cooking the vinegar and pigs and combined with the spices and the cooking techniques of Africans and later African Americans, it was only going on in Virginia," she said. "Throughout the years as slaves were sold throughout the United States and through the Great Migration, those techniques went to different places throughout the country."

Freeman said a lot of work went into telling that history.

"A lot of research, of course. Some of it is archival, some it thanks to Google," she said. "A lot of it's talking to different historians and looking through documentation to basically prove those assertions that actually are facts. Just historical record and digging through and finding that work out."

All that hard work appears to be paying off. The first season of "Setting the Table" hit the top spot on Apple food podcasts.

Deb Freeman 05.jpg

"I thought we'd do well, I did not know how well it was going to do. I decided I was gonna throw everything I had at it and hope for the best. And so it's exceeded my expectations," she said.

The day her podcast hit #1, Freeman said she almost had a medical emergency.

"I might have had a heart attack. I'm not sure. I did have chest pain," she said. "I had to take a step back and immediately called everyone I knew, took a screenshot, sent a mass group text. And I probably, not probably, I did scream. Fortunately, my neighbors did not check to see if anything was wrong, or maybe that's a bad thing they probably should have checked if someone was screaming. That's what happened. It was just an extraordinary feeling."

Learn more about her and her exploration of both African-American and Virginian food culture on the latest episode of Eat It, Virginia. The CBS 6 food podcast is available and wherever you get podcasts. You can watch a full interview with Deb Freeman here.

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