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Soul Food in Black Culture - A Research Paper Example

8 pages
1987 words
Wesleyan University
Type of paper: 
Research paper
This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Soul food is a term used to refer to food or ethnic cuisine prepared in a traditional manner and consumed by Africans American residing in parts of Southern United States. This food is therefore mainly associated with people of African American origin. A typical soul food includes: chicken that is fried or fried; pork that can either be smothered, it can be chitlins, it can also be pork neck or hams and fish. Some of the soul food are greens which include mustard, cabbage, and turnips. There are also black-eyed peas, candied yams, cornbread mac and cheese. In the culture of soul food, red stands for both color and flavor. Strawberries, cranberries, and cherries are referred to as red. When it comes to desert; there are many of varieties, however; the standard common ones include: bound cake; peach cobbler; sweet potatoes and banana pudding. To this date, however, the variety of ingredients and dishes included in the soul food has been embraced and has become part of the regional diet in Southern US meals.

The traditional method of preparation and cooking of the meal came up at the time of American slavery. Unappealing pieces of meat and Leftovers from their masters was what the African slaves were given as a source of food, whereas the desirable roasts and cuts of hams were a preserve of the owners of the white slaves. Slave owners controlled the portion of the food African American slaves received daily. On a specified day of a week; every slave was allocated: starch which is approximately five pounds that comprise of sweet potatoes, cornmeal and rice (Worley 26); a few pounds of smoked, dried, or salted meat (pork, fish or beef-that which was the cheapest) and a mug of molasses (Worley 43). African American slaves had to migrate the rural south looking for a new home (Tracy 4).

On any typical day, breakfast for the slaves comprises of crumbled corn of bread and buttermilk which was mixed up and poured into a trough. Dinner in the afternoon was made up of vegetables that are boiled with some meat to add flavor and a little red pepper for seasoning. Leftover portions of the dinner and cold corn bread was taken for late evening supper. It is only during weekends when there was no bulk of work to be done that the slaves had accessibility to more prestigious ingredients and meals that involved utilizing refined sugar and processed flour. This mixture of poor and prestigious food set the stage for what we today call; soul food, however; there was no choice of what to eat among the slaves; explains Andrian Miller; the James Beard Award-winning author and a prominent and renowned soul-food scholar. There were also vegetables that were grown for subsistence use to cater for families of the slaves after the end of slavery. Many former slaves and their families were poor and the off-cuts of meat and offal was the best they could afford.

Families also engaged in fishing, farming, and hunting which provide: game meat from rabbits, water-fowl, possum, and squirrel; farming provided fresh vegetables while fishing was a source of fresh fish. This farming knowledge and skills were borrowed from West Africa and the European slaves that were neighbors to the poor whites and people that were indigenous to that area. Slaves and their masters ate at different tables, but out of the same plate. Separate crews from the large farms were selected to cook and consequently feed the family of the master and slaves working in the fields. The intersectionality method of African food preparation maintained laws preventing equal accessibility, class status and innovative survival. Africans living in America prevail with this choice of food.

In an interview with Sam Worley, Andrian E. Miller; author of Soul Food; The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine gives an in-depth history and current development of soul food (Worley 17). Andrian explains that soul food has grown to be shorthand in the cooking of all African Americans; but, it had its origins from deep in the interior South which is mainly landlocked areas of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi which was termed as the Black Belt and also the Cotton Belt. It is from these areas that the soul food was spread to other states of America by African-American immigrants at the time of the Great Migration (Worley 24). Therefore, Andrian argues that soul food is more about the diet of African Americans outside the South (Worley 78). Most of the dishes comprising the Soul food are perceived as Southern, however, Andrian explains that Southern food is the mother cuisine and having the tendency to be on the bland side whereby it is not heavily spiced whereas soul food, on the other hand, is more intense in flavor and seasoning. It typically has more fat, sweeter, saltier, and spicier compared to the Southern dishes. A good example is Nashville hot chicken which is highly spicy compared to fried chicken (Worley 124). This, therefore; means that this dish has its origin from soul food tradition. While As the people migrated from the south; they carried with them their culture which included their traditional food; the soul food, which comprises their daily diet. The immigration food was not a daily menu in other states. Soul food such as fried chicken and fried fish was usually consumed on special occasions such as during celebrations. However, today the soul food has been fully embraced in the Southern and it is eaten regularly.

Andrian goes further to explain the origin of the name soul food and its significance. The soul idea came up in the 1940s from the African American artists from the jazz genre. These artists felt shortchange and disgruntled since all the best gigs which paid very well were a reserve for the white jazz artists. The African American jazz artists had to take their music to another level to compete with their white counterparts. They came up with a sound that the white artists cannot mimic and they came up with the gospel fused with jazz which was referred as soul It is from this point that soul became a label in all black culture aspects. That was the birth of soul sisters, soul music, soul brothers and soul food. It is at this point when soul became black label while Southern was adapt by white and this legacy holds up to today. However; it is hard for people to name the persons associated with soul food, but find it easy to name people associated with Southern food such as Paula Deen. African American great contribution to the Southern food has been ignored even though it is a shared cuisine. Southern food cuisine food greatly borrows from soul food which is an African American cuisine. Andrian blames all these on the lack of knowledge on the true story on the origin of the soul food cuisine.

Southern food is a larger repertoire of food, which borrows a lot from soul food (Worley 28). The food media culture is among those to blame for the lack of enough information on the origin of soul food. The media has not taken enough time to explore the aspect of origin in depth. This is further worsened by African American chefs who are trying to actively put Southern food at arms length, more especially soul food (Worley 32).

There is three sub-cuisines soul meal according to Andrian. Besides the traditional soul food, there is one known as down-home healthy. This idea involves taking the traditional method of preparing soul food and trying to lighten them up on fat, calories and salt. For example; smoked turkey is used in place of smoked pork which can be grilled or baked instead of the traditional method of frying (Worley 195). Upscale soul food; which is the exact opposite of down-home healthy is the other trend. Whereby there is no lightening up of the dishes but instead the cooking is made extravagant. An example is frying with duck fat ensuring that there is the use of heritage meat or heirloom vegetables. However; the current hottest thing in soul food is vegan soul food as argued by Andrian after he visited 150 soul food restaurants spread over 15 estates (Worley 45).

Soul food brilliantly explains the humanity and the heroic struggle of African American. People perceive eating of organically, locally and highly sustainable eco-foodie is being trendy yet the same dishes comprised of the early African American diet during and after the slave trade which dates back to 200 years ago. This cuisine was created as a way of deliciously melding the food and methods of cooking of the Americans, West Africa and Western Europe. Just the mentioning of the word soul food ignites memories and history of African Americans. This includes the rich cuisines and diet that included: smothered pork chops, peach cobbler, fried chicken, and red drink not forgetting food that was consumed during the hard times which included: greens with ham hocks or with salt pork; black-eyed peas and cornbread which has sustained many generations. For many who can understand; these dishes call for reasons to celebrate and appreciate a heritage full of culinary genius, resourcefulness and community harmony and building (Miller 115). However; some people come up with a negative conclusion that soul food is a highly unhealthy cuisine that requires a warning label.

Soul food is a cuisine of the African American People only that it has evolved through alterations in the methods of preparation. This cuisine evolved from the time of the slave trade through the civil war and to the Great Migration; finally, to todays trends. Andrian takes us through how soul food has evolved and consequently determining if the origin cuisine has been retained to date. The main aspect of the soul cuisine that has not been retained is the method of preservation which includes smoking, salting and use of to preserve greens pork whereby the meat was laid on top of it. They, however; did not eat the meat when the greens were finished, the just reuse it. Frying was also used as a technique of food preservation; which was adopted by slaves, these methods, the slaves learned it from the native Americans (McKibben 202). But, with refrigeration these techniques have been scrapped which greatly affects the original form of soul food. Atlanta Chef Todd Richards, in an interview by Beth McKibben, explains the importance of the traditional methods used to preserve soul food which he argues greatly improve the flavor (McKibben 242). However, the slaves motivation behind the reason of food preservation was to make it last longer but not to enhance flavor.

The emergence and growth of the black church and the sharecropping system largely impacted the development of nowadays is referred to as soul food. The very best food in the rural south was meant for showcasing during holidays, black church gathering and celebrations. Of all these; Church gatherings was the most crucial and frequent gathering by the community. Celebratory meals such as fried chicken, sweet potatoes, fried fish, red drinks, cakes, and watermelons were served. During the rest of the week, black families in rural areas consumed meals like what they ate during the slavery period; which was mainly comprised of vegetables, cornbread, and water accompanied with the increasing amount of processed food. Landlords; who were former slave masters; subdivided their large plantations into small pieces and gave out to individual farmers to cultivate in exchange for half of the harvest proceeds to landlords as a mode of payment. These individual farmers were referred to as tenants.

It is during the 1960s that the term soul food was sealed into Americas consciousness even though soul label was coined in the 1940s by the African American Jazz artists. Strong expression related to black cultural identity, economic and political power picked up in 1960s. Immediately the soul food penetrated into the mainstream, its meaning and what it stood for began to spli...

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