Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor: Culinary Anthropologist

By Ariel Alford

Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor was a culinary anthropologist, griot, poet, and food writer. This lesson plan will explore Afro-Atlantic foodways and culinary history through the lens of Grosvenor’s work. Additionally, students will investigate the ways culinary traditions can be used as a form of resistance and preserver of cultural memory.


Guiding Question: How can food be used as a form of cultural memory & resistance?

Supporting Questions:

  1. How can food preserve culture?
  2. What is the history & significance of “soul food”?
  3. How did Vertamae’s work honor/respect/uplift African American culture?

30 minutes recommended

  • Analyze and explain the social and cultural significance of African American culinary traditions
  • Explore the life and work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor
  • Investigate the role of enslavement in traditional African American cuisine
  • Make connections between cultural memory, cultural pride, and African American cuisine
  1. Students and teachers can review this quick passage from the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to provide foundational context.
  1. Internet Access & Student laptops
  2. See Think Wonder PDF
  3. Article Remembering Vertamae by Jed Portman
  4. Primary Source images from Vice article, “Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor Is the Unsung Godmother of American Food Writing” by Mayukh Sen
  5. Extension Videos "The Man Who Relives Enslavement Through Food" and "Soul Food Traditions"
  6. Google Jamboard
  7. Teacher Preferred LMS or Engagement Tools

Warm Up (10min): SEE THINK WONDER is a simple critical-viewing strategy to guide students’ analysis of any visual media. By prompting students to slow down their thinking and simply observe before drawing conclusions and asking questions, you can help them engage more deeply with and analyze more thoughtfully the media they are viewing.

Use the See Think Wonder PDF for this Warm Up.


Step 1: Students will carefully analyze primary source images to make observations and predictions about the life and work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor

Step 2: Utilizing see-think-wonder sentence stems students will share reflections surrounding their observations.

  • I SEE…(What are (3) things you notice or observe in this image?)
  • Which makes me THINK…(What are (2) things you think about when you analyze this image?)
  • So now I WONDER…(What is (1) thing you wonder about this topic or lesson?)

Step 3: Summarize student WONDERS as a transition into the lesson


Teacher Considerations....

  • Allow (2) minutes with each image
  • Allow share-out time after each source
  • Activity can be written or oral
  • Circulate to prompt on-task behavior
  • Reinforce the use of sentence stems to guide responses


Jigsaw Activity (10min): Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy that enables students of a "home" group to specialize in one aspect of a topic. As students re-group with the whole class to share information each "home" group serves as a piece of the topic's puzzle and when they work together as a whole, they create the complete jigsaw puzzle.


Step 1: Students will divide into (3) groups to explore the article Remembering Vertamae by Jed Portman

Step 2: While reading the assigned excerpt, groups will complete reflection questions and record responses in class Jamboard

  • List (2) important or interesting points from this excerpt
  • What can you learn about the life and work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor from this excerpt?

Step 3: Each jigsaw group will share-out and relay their finding and reflections to the whole group

Step 4: Once all jigsaw groups have shared reflections, students will answer supporting question on class Jamboard

  • How did Vertamae’s work honor/respect/uplift African American history & culture?

Teacher Considerations….

  • Allow (5) minutes for group exploration of excerpts
  • All students should have editing access to Jamboard
  • Reflection questions should be posted for reference
  • Circulate to promote on-task behavior
  • Allow (5) minutes for group share-outs
  • Supporting question will serve as transition to closing activity


Making Connections Closing Activity (10min): Student Choice Opportunity; giving students choices can help them be more engaged and responsible for their own learning.

Step 1: Each student will select (1) extension video to expand their understanding of African American culinary history and make modern connections to the work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor

Step 2: Students will independently complete connection questions for their self-selected extension video

Option One Questions"

  1. List (4) items used in traditional African American cooking that were brought from Africa
  2. How did enslaved Africans replace the yam in their dishes when they arrived in the United States?
  3. What name did African Americans give to their traditional foods & cooking styles?
  4. How does this video connect to the life & work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor?

Option Two Questions

  1. How were chickens significant to enslaved Africans?
  2. Why does Historian Michael Twitty choose to study African American food culture?
  3. What is unique about traditional African American cuisine?
  4. How does this video connect to the life & work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor?

Teacher Considerations…

  • Responses can be recorded via engagement tools like Pear Deck, Padlet, Jamboard, ect.
Assessment / Homework

Summary and Informed Action:

Exit Ticket: Explain your personal connection or experience with traditional African American cuisine. Where or when have you experienced traditional African American cuisine?

How can students apply what they’ve learned in their everyday lives? Foodways and culinary histories are a significant feature of human cultures. Through this lesson students will gain an appreciation of African American culinary history, which will provide them with the historical thinking skills to analyze other culinary histories.

Possible Extension Activity: Students can apply their learning by creating brief FlipGrid videos describing the importance of food as a cultural expression. Within the video students can also discuss a dish or food tradition from their culture, heritage, community, or family.

Future Research / Resources



D2.His.5.9-12. Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.


D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.


D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts