research paper is for those who tend to eat food specifically geared toward
their culture and have never veered from it. One would see this research essay
as a form of reference/reasoning to their many questions regarding the upheld
idea that soul food is the only predominant food choice in the typical African
Americans home. It also signifies the reason it is held at the highest
standards of those within the African American race/community. It also centers
around those who wish to enjoy other foods, but are culturally stuck to eating
only things that are generalized to what is considered a norm within their
community or race. My goal is to educate those who have been deterred from
trying new foods, due to lack of support or ridicule from family members; giving
reasons for why individuals within the African American race believe that one
should primarily stick to foods that are considered culturally appropriate such
as “Soul Food”.
Isn’t the Only Option.
Food is centered around the African American race. They originated the term by
cooking foods such as: Chitterlings, black-eyed peas, collard greens,
cornbread, pigs’ feet, and many other dishes that are considered to feed the
“soul”. Many foods share the ability to release a joyous purpose in different ways,
but on the one hand, contemporary memories of soul food or black southern
cuisine are linked to notions of family, love, and community— to the idea that
black people, struggling under the yoke of slavery and the post-slavery
experiences of sharecropping, Jim Crow racism, migration north, and
discrimination could at least rely on the comforts of the traditional foods
that solidified their relationships with one another in the face of adversity.
(Nettles 108) These
foods are essential to the African American race, they serve a purpose and
share a reflection of history that will never cease to be forgotten. Whereas
now in a much more moderate time, individuals within the African American race
are open-minded to other food choices, but are ultimately deterred from it,
through older relatives and friends’ judgment causing a cultural shock. By looking at African American cuisine, we
can see that black people subject themselves to eating just Soul food, proclaiming
it to a higher standard than other cuisines, which is important because said
cuisine secure traditional values which grounds our ever-changing culture.
The African American
Registry asserts that,
Soul Food is a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food
traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United
States. Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in “soul
food” are also regional meals and comprise a part of other Southern US
cooking, as well. The style of cooking originated during American slavery.
African slaves were given only the “leftover” and
“undesirable” cuts of meat from their masters (while the white slave
owners got the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc.)
After slavery, many
African American struggled financially to make ends meet, so they continued to
eat such straps, mainly because they were the cheapest selling marketed items.
Cost effective items were pivotal to their survival. As
for eating such foods for many of years, those dishes that were made became critiqued
throughout time to much tastier meals. Such meals were passed down from
generation to generation, creating a unique history behind it. Also, during
that time “Soul Food” was distinguishing its own meaning and identity, “There
is no doubt that the slave trade left a profound and everlasting mark on the
souls of enslaved Africans, but Opie makes a startlingly simple argument,
offering a definition of soul that describes not slaves but the
positive attributes of all of humankind.”(Evans 223) Laretta Henderson claims that, “in
its culinary incarnation, “soul food” was associated with a shared
history of oppression and inculcated, by some, with cultural pride. Soul food
was eaten by the bondsmen. It was also the food former slaves incorporated into
their diet after emancipation. Therefore, during the 1960s, middle-class blacks
used their reported consumption of soul food to distance themselves from the
values of the white middle class, to define themselves ethnically, and to align
themselves with lower-class blacks. Irrespective of political affiliation or
social class, the definition of “blackness” or “soul” became part of everyday
discourse in the black community.” (82)
Soul food secures the
traditional value in the African American community by bringing forth a gateway
that creates representation and ties between the past and present showing
respect and gratitude to ones’ ancestors’ through food. They acknowledge their
ancestors for setting a forefront for such foods, that were deemed undesirable
and turning them into well sought out dishes.
An example of a traditional time serving soul food would be Thanksgiving:
a holiday where African Americans prepare a feast in honor of traditional
dishes passed down by those departed. This
ultimately brings family members together to form a bond and to give thanks to
the ones they love. Soul food such as homemade macaroni & cheese, stuffing,
collard greens, chitterlings, cornbread, yams, and ham are typically made
during Thanksgiving and Christmas because it is the only time extended family
congregate for this experience. The message of unity and love can be heard
through coming together and preparing a meal that the whole extended family
consider soul food to be better than other foods simply because of the constant
competition between food, cultural territory, and triggers/backlash from history.
African Americans were in competition with the way the foods tasted, they emphasize
seasoning and flavor. Also, they use certain techniques “To cook soul food you must
use all your senses. You cook by instinct, but you also use smell, taste, touch,
sight, and, particularly, sound.” (Ferguson 7)Using different ways to make food,
broke relational barriers. The fought hard to create their own identity through
food, by using these substances that were not used in everyday culture. This
approach merely singled out other cultures while simultaneously trying to find
its own identity. For instance, since cooking unwanted parts of animals was the
only source of protein they had during slavery, blacks established an identity
from their misfortunes. They chose to deal with what was given at hand and make
the best out of it. That is why African Americans shouldn’t deter from these
values in which was set before them because it tampers with their identity and uniqueness
as a race. This is their way of putting a mark on the world, without taking
One would argue that just because soul
food is basically African American centered food that they stick to eating it,
and do not try anything out of their culture. This limits their taste and
outlook on other foods. They become culturally isolated and ignorant. Although this
may be true to a certain degree, I would disagree because “what there was in
urban black neighborhoods, was an African American culinary tradition that
centered on two principles: Southerness and commensality. The story of how
these principles became “Soul Food” is the story of how a transparent
and mundane fact of life – food – became a harbinger of an urban, black ethnic
identity.”(Poe 5) I feel as if it is one’s
tradition, it should be carried out each and every day not just on special
occasions. It holds its value to a higher standard, which reflects a good
understanding of how far they have come as a people. Trying new foods is not a
requirement in life, it is just something people do to become cultured. If it’s
not required, then there is no need for it.
“Soul Food” is always going to be predominate within the black community. It is
an authentic way blacks have distinguished their identity and is recognized and
appreciated by other cultures, not to mention that it holds a lot of history
and greatness of their ancestors who sacrificed their peace of mind for the
next generation of blacks to prosper. We
as a community should continue to appreciate these meals because there is no
need to step out of their norm just to please society.
Evans, Amy C., et al. Vol. 76, no. 1, 2010, pp. 222–224.,
www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/stable/27779283. Accessed 29 Dec. 2017.
Ferguson, Sheila. Soul Food: Classic Cuisine From the Deep South. Grove Press, 1993.
Henderson, Laretta. “‘Ebony Jr!” and ‘Soul Food’: The
Construction of Middle-Class African American Identity through the Use of
Traditional Southern Foodways.” Vol. 32, no. 4, 2007, pp. 81–97.,
www.jstor.org/stable/30029833. Accessed 29 Dec. 2017.
Nettles, Kimberly d. “”Saving” Soul Food.” Vol. 7, no. 3,
2007, pp. 106–113., doi:10.1525/gfc.2007.7.3.106. Accessed 29 Dec. 2017.
Poe, Tracy N. “The Origins of Soul Food in Black Urban
Identity: Chicago, 1915-1947.” Vol. 37, no. 1, 1999, pp. 4–33.,
www.jstor.org/stable/41279638. Accessed 29 Dec. 2017.
“‘Soul Food’ a Brief History.” “Soul Food”
a Brief History | African American Registry,
Worley, Sam. “Where Soul Food Really Comes From.” Epicurious,
29 June 2016, www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/real-history-of-soul-food-article.