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This 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”.
Soul 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. 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.”
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.”
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 will enjoy.
African American’s 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.” 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 extreme measures.
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.”
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. In conclusion, “Soul Food” is always going to be predominating 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.
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