DEIA – Why the Juneteenth Feast Includes Red Food & Drink

Posted: May 22, 2023 at 12:55 p.m.

Juneteenth is one of the oldest celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news that slaves were now free, despite the fact that President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official two and a half years prior on January 1st, 1863. The delivery of the new Executive Order was slow to reach Texas, due to the minimal amount of Union troops to enforce the new law.

There are several theories that attempt to explain the two and a half year delay of the important news. The first theory is attributed to the death of a messenger, who was sent to deliver the news of freedom, on his way to Texas. Another was that the news was delivered, but enslavers withheld this information from the slaves to maintain labor forces on plantations. A similar explanation states that federal troops waited for slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before heading to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

In The Early Years Of Juneteenth

African American communities held celebrations, but there was resistance toward these events by barring them from using public property for festivities. As a result, many festivities ended up taking place in rural areas near creeks or rivers. Activities included horseback riding, dancing, fishing, and barbecuing. The annual Juneteenth celebrations began to flourish as the years passed, but declined during the Great Depression. It was only during the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s that Juneteenth celebrations regained popularity.

Juneteenth celebrations encourage the continuous self-development of African Americans and respect for all cultures. At current Juneteenth events, it is common to see red velvet cake, red soda, red punch, barbecue, and lots of other red foods. The red theme may be attributed to the remembrance of slavery, but the act of eating these red foods may date back to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo that were brought to Texas in the 19th century from present day Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and the Democratic National Republic of Congo. Some culinary historians have connected the red colored foods to the Asante and Yoruba’s ceremonial occasions, in which they offered the blood of animals to the gods and ancestors. The color red also symbolizes strength, life, death, and spirituality.

Historians have had an easier time concluding why people consume red drinks on Juneteenth. West African traditional plants, the kola nut and hibiscus flower, were commonly brewed into teas or mixed into the water. The kola nut was commonly used to purify water, turning it slightly red in the process. It was also used as a natural energy drink because of the kola nut’s natural energizing properties. When hibiscus flowers are steeped the water turns reddish purple, and this tea, known as bissap, was commonly served to guests. To help you celebrate Juneteenth, here are some of our favorite red recipes:

Healthy Red Soda

Simple And Spicy Raw Tomato Soup

Instant Pot Beet Salad

Cherry Banana Ice Cream


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