In 2021, everything appears to either be racist or infrastructure. That said, a food magazine of all things is now letting it’s readers know that the difference between yams and sweet potatoes now considered structural racism or something. Please let this be a parallel universe or something..
In the United States, the yam and sweet potato conflation was further inculcated thanks to a marketing campaign for the trade group Louisiana Sweet Potatoes. Researcher Julian C. Miller developed a new variety of sweet potato at the Louisiana Experiment Station that had creamier, less stringy flesh, a more tender skin, and a higher content of vitamin A than the other sweet potatoes on the market. To distinguish these new sweet potatoes from their East Coast counterparts, the Louisiana sweet potato industry started using the term “yam.” Today, California sweet potato growers, where a huge number of sweet potatoes are grown commercially, are working to drop the word “yam,” and the USDA requires “yam” to be accompanied by “sweet potatoes” in official descriptions.
But the confusion persists among the American public, and the perpetuation of sweet potatoes as yams is a testament to how deeply West African food traditions undergird American cuisine. The mix-up has roots in the structural racism that built the country, but the use of sweet potatoes as yams by African-Americans is ultimately a result of resilience and innovation.
Oduah’s feelings toward candied yams have since changed, and now she has a fondness for the dish.“I wish [Americans] knew how versatile and delicious yams are. I personally believe the yam deserves to be where French fries are,” she wrote. “I wish more people knew the history there.” Or, as Dr. Barton wrote, “As the sweet potato takes up the role of the yam—foodstuff for sacred twins and ancestors—it epitomizes the creativity of the diaspora.”
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