Black History: ‘Food for the Soul’

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By: Isaiah Robinson

 

HOUSTON — The smell of cornbread and macaroni and cheese in the oven, collard greens marinating with turkey legs in the pot, the chitlins’ – that most will just look at and won’t eat — on the burner, a sweet potato pie cooling off on the counter and chicken being fried on the stove is a combination that will send any hungry black family to the kitchen with their paper plates, until someone screams out, “let the kids eat first!”

“Soul Food” has been a part of the traditional African American diet for generations.

The Southern-style cuisine is a lightning rod in our culture, bringing a sense of love, togetherness and happiness to a family gathering, no matter what conflict or division that any household is enduring because, after all, “food is love.”

These dishes celebrate a heritage of culinary genius, community-building and resourcefulness.

However, there are those who believe and criticize that soul food is unhealthy or “slave food” that is unworthy of celebration.

Its creation is proudly rooted in our history as a means of survival and turning scraps into delicassies.

During slavery, our ancestors created meals from the herbs and plants they grew, and meats from slaughtered animals the slave owners disposed of or did not want to eat.

The enslaved Africans had to figure out ways to supplement their diet by fishing, foraging, hunting, gardening (some transplanted vegetables from Africa like okra) and raising livestock with farming knowledge passed down from the Motherland. They also made their own seasonings with altered recipes from their original homes.

Decades after the Civil War, the pre-slavery patterns evolved into traditions we still practice today.

Church and community gatherings were the most frequent and vital to the black community and they served celebratory foods like fried chicken, fried fish, cakes, sweet potato pies and watermelon.

It’s nothing to hold your heads down about, it’s something you own, and adjust based off your needs in these times.

Now, African Americans have become aware of the health risks associated with some soul food (just like any other rich foods), which can lead to ailments including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

No need to panic, however, we can still enjoy our favorites with portion control, and there are other options.

Some chefs have even opened up “vegan” soul food restaurants.

So, as much as we love those beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, lamb, rams and hog maws–YOU NAME IT– we have to watch out for what it’s doing to our health.

Don’t cut cold turkey, but take heed and eat in moderation.