Soul food is an ethnic cuisine traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans, originating in the Southern United States. Soul food originated with the foods that were given to enslaved Black people by white enslavers on Southern plantations during the Antebellum period; however, it was strongly influenced by the traditional practices of West Africans and Southeastern Native Americans from its inception. Due to the historical presence of African Americans in the region, soul food is closely associated with the cuisine of the American South although today it has become an easily identifiable and celebrated aspect of mainstream American food culture.
The term soul food became popular in the 1960s and 1970s in the midst of the Black Power movement. One of the earliest written uses of the term is found in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was published in 1965. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) published an article entitled "Soul Food" and was one of the key proponents for establishing the food as a part of the black American identity. Those who had participated in the Great Migration found within soul food a reminder of the home and family they had left behind after moving to unfamiliar northern cities. Soul food restaurants were black-owned businesses that served as neighborhood meeting places where people socialized and ate together.
Soul food recipes have pre-slavery influences, as West African and European foodways were adapted to the environment of the region. Many of the foods integral to the cuisine originate from the limited rations given to enslaved people by their planters and masters. Enslaved people were typically given a peck of cornmeal and 3-4 pounds of pork per week, and from those rations come soul food staples such as cornbread, fried catfish, barbecued ribs, chitterlings, and neckbones. It has been noted that enslaved Africans were the primary consumers of cooked greens (collards, beets, dandelion, kale, and purslane) and sweet potatoes for a portion of US history.
Most enslaved people needed to consume a high-calorie diet, to replenish the calories spent working long days in the fields or performing other physically arduous tasks. This led to time-honored soul food traditions like frying foods, breading meats and fishes with cornmeal, and mixing meats with vegetables (e.g. putting pork in collard greens). Eventually, this slave-invented style of cooking was adopted into larger Southern culture, as slave owners gave special privileges to slaves with cooking skills.
Impoverished whites and blacks in the South cooked many of the same dishes stemming from the soul tradition, but styles of preparation sometimes varied. Certain techniques popular in soul and Southern cuisines (i.e., frying meat and using all parts of the animal for consumption) are shared with ancient cultures all over the world, including China, Egypt, and Rome.
Introduction of soul food to northern cities such as Washington D.C. also came from private chefs in the White House. Many American presidents have desired French cooking, and have sought after black Creole chefs. The 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, and former First Lady Caroline Harrison, took this same route when they terminated their French cooking staff for a black woman by the name of Dolly Johnson.
One famous relationship includes the bond formed between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Zephyr Wright. Wright became a great influence to Johnson in fighting for civil rights as he saw her treatment and segregation as they would travel throughout the south. Johnson even had Wright present at the signing of several civil rights laws. Lizzie McDuffie, a former maid and cook to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, assisted her boss during the 1936 election simply by making the president more relatable to black voters. With public awareness of black Americans preparing food in the presidential kitchen, this in turn helped to sway minority votes for hopeful presidential candidates such as John F. Kennedy.
To a far greater degree than anyone realizes, several of the most important food dishes that the Native Americans of the southeastern U.S.A live on today is the "soul food" eaten by both Black and White Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten: Sofkee lives on as grits; cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks; Indian fritters -- variously known as "hoe cake" or "Johnny cake"; Indian boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as "corn meal dumplings" and "hush puppies"; Southerners cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Native tribes; and, like the Native Americans, Southerners cured their meats and smoked it over hickory coals...
Scholars have noted the substantial African influence found in soul food recipes, especially from the West and Central regions of Africa. This influence can be seen through the heat level of many soul food dishes, as well as many ingredients found within them. Peppers used to add spice to food included malagueta pepper, as well as peppers native to the western hemisphere such as red (cayenne) peppers. Several foods that are essential in southern cuisine and soul food were domesticated or consumed in the African savanna and the tropical regions of West and Central Africa. These include pigeon peas, black-eyed peas, okra, and sorghum.
There are many documented parallels between the foodways of West Africans and soul food recipes. The consumption of sweet potatoes in the US is reminiscent of the consumption of yams in West Africa. The frequent consumption of cornbread by African-Americans is analogous to West Africans' use of fufu to soak up stews.
Researchers state that many tribes in Africa utilized a vegetarian/plant based diet because of its simplicity. This included the way food was prepared as well as served. It was not uncommon to see food served out of an empty gourd. Many techniques to change the overall flavor of staple food items such as nuts, seeds, and rice contributed to added dimensions of evolving flavors. These techniques included roasting, frying with palm oil, baking in ashes, and steaming in leaves such as banana leaf.
The first soul food cookbook is attributed to Abby Fisher, entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking and published in 1881. Good Things to Eat was published in 1911; the author, Rufus Estes, was a former slave who worked for the Pullman railway car service. Many other cookbooks were written by black Americans during that time, but as they were not widely distributed, most are now lost.
Since the mid-20th century, many cookbooks highlighting soul food and African-American foodways have been compiled and published. One notable soul food chef is celebrated traditional Southern chef and author Edna Lewis, who released a series of books between 1972 and 2003, including A Taste of Country Cooking in which she weaves stories of her childhood in Freetown, Virginia into her recipes for "real Southern food".
Soul food originated in the southern region of the US and is consumed by African-Americans across the nation. Traditional soul food cooking is seen as one of the ways enslaved Africans passed their traditions to their descendants once they were brought to the US, and is a cultural creation stemming from slavery and Native American and European influences.
Scholars have noted that while white Americans provided the material supplies for soul food dishes, the cooking techniques found in many of the dishes have been visibly influenced by the enslaved Africans themselves. Dishes derived by slaves consisted of many vegetables and grains because slave owners felt more meat would cause the slave to become lethargic with less energy to tend to the crops.
Figures such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Elijah Muhammad, and Dick Gregory played notable roles in shaping the conversation around soul food. Muhammad and Gregory opposed soul food because they felt it was unhealthy food and was slowly killing African-Americans. They saw soul food as a remnant of oppression and felt it should be left behind. Many African-Americans were offended by the Nation of Islam's rejection of pork as it is a staple ingredient used to flavor many dishes.
Stokely Carmichael also spoke out against soul food, claiming that it was not true African food due to its colonial and European influence. Despite this, many voices in the Black Power Movement saw soul food as something African-Americans should take pride in, and used it to distinguish African-Americans from white Americans. Proponents of soul food embraced the concept of it, and used it as a counterclaim to the argument that African-Americans had no culture or cuisine.
Soul food spread throughout the United States when African Americans from the South moved to major cities across the country such as Chicago and New York City. They brought with them the foods and traditions of the Southern United States, where they were enslaved.
Soul food prepared traditionally and consumed in large amounts can be detrimental to one's health. Opponents to soul food have been vocal about health concerns surrounding the culinary traditions since the name was coined in the mid-20th century.
Soul food has been criticized for its high starch, fat, sodium, cholesterol, and caloric content, as well as the inexpensive and often low-quality nature of the ingredients such as salted pork and cornmeal. In light of this, soul food has been implicated by some in the disproportionately high rates of high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), stroke, and heart attack suffered by African-Americans. Figures who led discussions surrounding the negative impacts of soul food include Dr. Alvenia Fulton, Dick Gregory, and Elijah Muhammad.
Fueled by federal subsidies, the agricultural system in the United States became industrialized as the nutritional value of most processed foods, and not just those implicated in a traditional perception of soul food, have degraded. This urges a consideration of how concepts of racial authenticity evolve alongside changes in the structures that make some foods more available and accessible than others. 041b061a72