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Soul food is an American cuisine, a selection of foods, and is the traditional cuisine of African Americans in the United States. It is closely related to Southern cuisine of the United States. The descriptive terminology may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common definer used to describe black culture (for example, soul music).

Origins

A southern family on a fishing and hunting outing in the late 1800s.
Catfish and waterfowl are suspended from the side of the boat.


The term soul food became popular in the 1960s, when the word soul became used in connection with African American culture . The origins of soul food, however, are much older and can be traced back to Africa. Foods such as rice, sorghum (known by Europeans as "guinea corn"), and okra — all common elements in West African cuisine — were introduced to the Americas as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and became dietary staples among enslaved Africans. They also comprise an important part of American southern cooking. Many culinary historians believe that in the beginning of the 14th century, around the time of early African exploration, European explorers brought their own food supplies and introduced them into the African diet. Foods such as corn and cassava from the Americas, turnips from Moroccomarker and cabbage from Portugalmarker would play an important part in the history of African American cuisine.

When the European slave trade began in the early 1400s, the diet of newly enslaved Africans changed on the long journeys from their homeland. It was during this time that some of the indigenous crops of Africa began showing up in the Americas.

Enslavers fed their captives as cheaply as possible, often with throwaway foods from the plantation, forcing slaves to make do with the ingredients at hand. In slave households, vegetables were the tops of turnips and beets and dandelions. Soon, slaves were cooking with new types of greens: collards, kale, cress, mustard, and pokeweed. They also developed recipes which used lard; cornmeal; and offal, discarded cuts of meat such as pigs' feet, oxtail, ham hocks, chitterlings (pig small intestines), pig ears, hog jowls, tripe and skin. Cooks added onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf to enhance the flavors. Some slaves supplemented their meager diets by maintaining small plots made available to them to grow their own vegetables, and many engaged in subsistence fishing and hunting, which yielded wild game for the table. Foods such as raccoon, squirrel, opossum, turtle, and rabbit were, until the 1950s, very common fare among the still predominantly rural and southern African American population.

Native American cuisine

Southern Native American culture (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek) is the "cornerstone" of Southern cuisine. From their culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize), either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, also called masa, in a Native American technology known as nixtamalization. Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey and moonshine, which were important trade items.

Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans' diet.

Southern Native Americans also supplemented their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hog and cattle were kept. When game or livestock was killed, the entire animal was used. Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for them to eat organ meats such as liver, brains and intestines. This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings (commonly called chit’lins) which are fried large intestines of hog, livermush (a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver), and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early European settlers were taught Southern Native American cooking methods, and so cultural diffusion was set in motion for the Southern dish.

Impoverished whites and blacks in the South prepared many of the same dishes stemming from the soul tradition, but styles of preparation sometimes varied. Certain techniques popular in soul and southern cuisine like frying meat and using all parts of the animal for consumption, have a long history of which evidence occurs in ancient cultures all over the world, including Rome, Egypt and China. Whichever way it was introduced to the American South, fried meat became a common staple.

Cookbooks

Since it was illegal in many states for enslaved Africans to learn to read or write, soul food recipes and cooking techniques tended to be passed along orally, until after slavery. 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 African 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 compiled by African Americans have been published and well received. Vertamae Grosvenor's Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, originally published in 1970, focused on South Carolinamarker "Lowcountry", Geechee, or Gullah, cooking. Its focus on spontaneity in the kitchen—cooking by "vibration" rather than precisely measuring ingredients, as well as "making do" with ingredients on hand—captured the essence of traditional African American cooking techniques. The simple, healthful, basic ingredients of lowcountry cuisine, like shrimp, oysters, crab, fresh produce, rice and sweet potatoes, made it a bestseller.

At the center of African American food celebrations is the value of sharing. Likewise, African American cookbooks often have a common theme of family and family gatherings. Usher boards and Women's Day committees of various religious congregations large and small, and even public service and social welfare organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) have produced cookbooks to fund their operations and for charitable enterprises. The NCNW produced its first cookbook, The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro, in 1958, and revived the practice in 1993, producing a popular series of cookbooks featuring recipes by well-known and celebrity African Americans, among them: The Black Family Reunion Cookbook (1993), Celebrating Our Mothers' Kitchens: Treasured Memories and Tested Recipes (1994), and Mother Africa's Table: A Chronicle of Celebration (1998). The NCNW also recently reissued The Historical Cookbook.

Celebrated traditional Southern chef and author Edna Lewis wrote a series of books between 1972 and 2003, including A Taste of Country Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976) where she weaves stories of her childhood in Freetown, Virginiamarker into her recipes for "real Southern food".

Another organization, the Chicago-based Real Men Charities, in existence since the 1980s, sponsors food-based charitable and educational programs and activities around the nation. As its primary annual, celebrity-studded fundraiser, Real Men Charities sponsors "Real Men Cook" events and programs in fifteen cities nationwide, where African American men gather to present their best recipes—some original, others handed down for generations—for charity. The event is timed to coincide roughly with Juneteenth and Father's Day and is promoted with the slogan "Every day is Family Day When Real Men Cook." In 2004, Real Men rolled out its Sweet Potato Pound Cake Mix in select food retail establishments in several cities, and published a cookbook in 2005 titled Real Men Cook: Rites, Rituals and Recipes for Living. Proceeds from these events and from the cookbook help fund the organization's varied operations and activities.

Soul food and health

Soul food was developed by enslaved African-Americans who lived under the difficult and impoverished conditions of grinding physical labor. It is humble, hearty fare, traditionally cooked and seasoned with pork products and often fried in lard.

Formerly, an important aspect of the preparation of soul food was the reuse of cooking lard. Because many cooks were too poor to throw out shortening that had already been used, they would pour the cooled liquid grease into a container. After cooling completely, the grease resolidified and could be used again the next time the cook required lard.

Frequent consumption of these ingredients without significant exercise or activity may contribute to disproportionately high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems, and/or type 2 diabetes, conditions which often result in shortened lifespan. Additionally, trans fat, which is used not only in soul food, but in many baked goods, is a known contributor to cardiovascular disease.

As a result, some African-Americans may use methods of cooking soul food different from those employed by their grandparents, including using more healthful alternatives for frying (liquid vegetable oil or canola oil) and cooking and stewing using smoked turkey instead of pork. Changes in hog farming techniques have also resulted in drastically leaner pork. Some cooks have even adapted recipes to include healthier alternatives to traditional ingredients including tofu and soy-based analogues. Critics have argued that the attempt to make soul food healthier has the undesirable effect of not being as flavorful as the traditional recipes.

Certain staples of a soul food diet have pronounced health benefits. Collard greens are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, B6, and C, manganese, iron, calcium, folic acid, fiber and small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. They also contain a number of phytonutrients which are thought to play a role in the prevention of ovarian and breast cancer. Peas, rice, and legumes are excellent, inexpensive sources of protein which also contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene and trace minerals as well, and have come to be classified as an "anti-diabetic" food. Recent animal studies have shown that sweet potatoes can stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.

Dishes and ingredients

Soul food restaurants

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles
Sylvia's Restaurant of Harlemmarker is known for its soul food as is Sweat's in Nashville. H&H Restaurant in Macon, Georgiamarker is also a renowned location. Mama Lo's served soul food in Gainesville, Florida. Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles is a Hollywoodmarker, Californiamarker-based soul food restaurant chain founded by Herb Hudson, a Harlemmarker native, in 1976.

See also



References

  1. Frederick Douglass Opie,Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America (Columbia University Press, 2008,), see chapter 1
  2. Frederick Douglass Opie, Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America (Columbia University Press, 2008), chapter 2


Further reading

  • Huges, Marvalene H. Soul, Black Women, and Food. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Bowser, Pearl and Jean Eckstein, A Pinch of Soul, Avon, New York, 1970
  • Counihan, Carol and Penny Van Esterik editors, Food and Culture, A Reader, Routledge, New York, 1997
  • Harris, Jessica, The Welcome Table – African American Heritage Cooking, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1996
  • Root, Waverley and Richard de Rochemont, Eating in America, A History, William Morrow, New York, 1976
  • Glenn, Gwendolyn, "American Visions," Southern Secrets From Edna Lewis, February-March, 1997
  • Puckett, Susan, "Restaurant and Institutions", Soul Food Revival, February 1, 1997


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