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The Concept and History of Soul-food

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Within every ethnic group there are many forms of culture. Each culture is divided into various categories. These categories can be referred to as subcultures. Subcultures are smaller segments of a culture that are not against the culture. Examples of these subcultures are music, religion, fashion and cuisine. In the African American culture the cuisine of choice is Soul-food. Soul-food is not only great choice of food but it also plays a significant role in African American culture.

Between the era of 300 and 1619 was when the first initial slaves arrived in America in Jamestown, Virginia. Many of these slaves were farmers, cattle raisers, and even fisherman. When embarking on their journey to America slaves would often bring over several plants such as okra, watermelon, black eyed peas, yams and even sweet sorghum. During the period of enslavement of African-Americans slave owners controlled the portion of food in which slaves would receive, often giving them mere portions of starches and meats. Due to the lack of food slaves were forced to improvise. This resulted in scavenging, gardening, hunting, as well as raising livestock. Slaves had to learn how to combine their prior knowledge of cooking in Africa with their newly found knowledge of cooking bestowed upon them by the Europeans. Slaves brought over various techniques such as boiling, cooking collards, fat frying, and grilling from Africa. These same techniques were then utilized in southern America which included, ribs, fried chicken as well as seafood. The utilization of these techniques became much of a necessity due to the harsh eating conditions being held on the plantations.

As the enslavement of African-Americans began to increase around America as did African-American cuisine. Not only did the food provide the slaves with nutrition it also established a sense of togetherness, cooking was used an outlet to express oneself. Slaves often spent 18 hour days on the plantation where they were not able to express themselves, spend time with loved ones or even indulge on a home cooked meal. So they cherished coming home and receiving a home cooked meal. African-American cuisine not only filled the stomach of slaves but also was a source of knowledge for the slaves. Many slaves did not know how to read or write so when creating these meals they’d simply memorize them and verbally pass them down for generations to come. Slaves not only contributed to American cuisine they also helped play a major role in the American Political system. The food and work in which the slaves produced helped America gain growth and prosperity within the economy. This era was known as the Progressive Era which lasted from 1860-1910. Then came about the Reconstruction Era also known as emancipation. In honor of the Emancipation many black church gatherings were held. Foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, yams, watermelon and red drinks, were served and deemed as celebratory foods. Though for blacks the Emancipation brought upon a new sense of freedom sharecropping would become a new burden for the African-American culture. This would then result in the The Great migration in which, over 6 million African -Americans from the south would relocate to the North, Midwest and West from 1916-1970. During this period many African-Americans we’re forced to live in segregated portions of town in which they encountered many immigrants who would then expose them to Chinese meals such as chop suey and pork fried rice, as well as Italian which consisted of pizza and spaghetti. Prior to the 1960’s the food style in which slaves created had no name.

The term soul food came about when a writer names Alex Haley interviewed Malcolm X’s life story in 1963. The citizens that participated in the great migration used soul food as a way to feel at home, many people were “homesick” Soul food gave many African-Americans a sense of comfort. As The Great migration era would come to an end there would be a new period rising. This era was known as Black Power. The Black Power movement would be the first time in history were blacks would become openly vocal about their culture as well as their economic and political viewpoints. This would result in the release of soul food within the mainstream media. Black Panther activist deemed soul food as a connector of one black individual to another also as form of culture in which whites could not understand. As time progressed Soul Food began to be associated with happiness and a sense of togetherness by many African Americans.

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