What Is Juneteenth and How Can You Celebrate with Food Allergies?


by Kristin M. Osborne, FAACT Vice President of Education

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday commemorating the emancipation of people who had been enslaved in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordan Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and notified enslaved people there that President Abraham Lincoln had declared through the Emancipation Proclamation that all enslaved people were free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted in 1863, it took more than two years for the last enslaved people, those in Galveston, Texas, to receive notification.

Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19th (the title combines the words “June” and “nineteenth”). It is also referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day. Forty-seven of the 50 states in the United States recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or ceremonial event.

How do you celebrate?

Celebrations on Juneteenth have evolved over the years. What started as celebrations of family, freedom, citizenship, and church have evolved to also include education, awareness, and community. For many families across the country, Juneteenth is filled with community activities like parades, celebrations, fairs, rodeos, music, dance performances, fireworks, and delicious foods.

Some families choose to celebrate by taking the day off work to spend it in fellowship with friends and family, shop at black-owned businesses, reflect on and celebrate black history, and come together as a community to discuss how we can continue to protect black joy.

What foods are traditionally eaten during this holiday?

Like any holiday, fellowship and food are a large part of how someone may celebrate. Culture is celebrated primarily by food – how it’s cooked, served, and eaten. Many foods eaten during Juneteenth are symbolic. Red foods like strawberry pie or shortcake, watermelon, and strawberry soda are served at Juneteenth celebrations because the color represents the determination, grit, and resilience of enslaved people.

Juneteenth is not complete without someone in charge of the grill, usually a mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or expert grill master. The aroma of charcoal, the crackle of searing food on the hot grill, and music are all sounds of freedom, black joy, and family.

Various types of barbeque and brisket are front and center during Juneteenth festivities. Traditional soul food like crispy fried chicken, flaky fried fish, tangy collard greens, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese (always made by your favorite aunt), potato salad, deviled eggs, smoked red beans, honeyed cornbread, and desserts like red velvet cake, sweet potato pie, cherry pie, pineapple pound cake, and chocolate cake are just a few staples at any Juneteenth celebration.

If you have food allergies, how do you celebrate the holiday and enjoy these tasty foods?

Having food allergies does not mean you cannot enjoy gatherings with others. Food and fellowship can safely coexist with a little planning and creativity. Here are several tips on how my family safely participates.

Prepare in advance. Will you host the event? Will the event be coordinated by several people? Find out in advance what foods will be served and where the event will be located. Is the event inside or outside? During Juneteenth, fried fish is a common staple at some celebrations. If you have a fish allergy, you may want to ask if it is possible to fry the fish outside so you can safely enjoy the celebration inside.

Many Juneteenth celebrations are hosted as potlucks where everyone brings their best dish to share. These foods are often discussed extensively with praise showered on the cook. Usually, empty plates and second servings are a sign of good food. Ask the host if a separate table can be provided for allergen-friendly foods with signage outlining the ingredients.

Create new recipes that are allergen-friendly and share them with others. As a family, we have reinvented many foods traditionally eaten during Juneteenth, all while being mindful of our food allergies. We transformed a traditional fried chicken recipe containing wheat flour, buttermilk, and eggs into a gluten-free chia seed fried chicken recipe. Why did we add chia seed? Water and chia seed make the perfect replacement for an egg to bind the flour to the chicken. This creates a crispy, crunchy piece of chicken that we describe as magical. We use a gluten-free flour that is rice based. When rice flour is fried, it adds to the magical crispiness of the fried chicken.

A Juneteenth celebration also would not be complete without mac and cheese. I use gluten-free elbow pasta, vegan butter, and vegan cheese that melts into gooey goodness. There are several ways to make mac and cheese, which has led to many an intense discussion. For our family, classic mac and cheese is baked in the oven. A roux is made, the pasta is boiled al dente, then added to a casserole dish and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. The dish is layered with seasoning, pasta, dairy-free cheese, vegan butter, and more pasta. The layered pattern is complete when you cannot add any additional layers to the dish. The mac and cheese is topped with a final layer of cheese and sprinkled with smoked paprika.

The key to creating new recipes is to take what you can safely eat and adapt that for your family. Sharing and adapting food traditions is what makes each culture unique. Bring a safe meal to enjoy and a safe dish for everyone else to enjoy. As a family with food allergies, you can hold your head high knowing your food contribution is important and will add to the uniqueness of your culture.

Have an emergency plan and bring your medication. Any time you leave your home, have your allergy management plan readily available and carry your emergency medication! If you are unfamiliar with the surrounding area where an event is being held, find out where the closest emergency facilities are located.

Continue the legacy. Like our ancestors who passed down their traditions and recipes, we have the honor of contributing to our history. Our family’s story will be added – including food allergies, allergens, and everything in between. Future generations will know our history and it will be that of determination and resilience.