Soul Food

Ting-I Lee

African American studies 101


African American traditional cuisine comes to my mind when I first thought about picking an African American cultural product. I like to try different ethnic cuisines because it could be the simplest way to start learning and understanding different cultural backgrounds. According to ingredients of traditional dishes, it is easy for me to approach cultural backgrounds through tasting those dishes. There is a Chinese phrase expresses that food plays an important role in human life, which is known as “hunger breeds discontentment” in English. Food is the first necessary of the people no matter which social classes people are in. Humans will serve themselves the best dishes that they could offer and created their unique meals according to different living conditions and food materials. In my opinion, I think it was not easy for African Americans developed their traditional cuisines during slavery because of limiting food sources and poor living conditions. It was also difficult for African Americans to survive during the time. Therefore, African American cuisines became a significant and encouraging meal that presents as African American culture and brings happiness to their life today.

Soul food is one of famous African American cuisines in the United States. It is a popular dish, which is usually served in African American families. Soul food is also being an important traditional meal that will be served during family dinners and special celebrations (“A Brief History of Soul Food”). However, this African American traditional cuisine is not well known in my country Taiwan. Most of Taiwanese are more familiar with American food, such as steaks, burgers, and mash potatoes. There are fewer chances for us to taste African American cuisines like spoon bread and collard greens. After taking the class, I have more opportunities to learn African American culture and the development of African American history. This is also a great opportunity for me to know African American food and learn the history of soul food.

Soul food is an ethnic food, which is traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans live in the Southern United States. The style of cooking was originally developed by African slaves during American slavery. Slaveowners usually got the best parts of meats, such as ham, bacon, and roasts. On the contrast, slaves didn’t have much food to cook and they were only given leftover and undesirable cuts of meat from their masters. Fortunately, slaves were able to grow their own vegetables and created their meal more delicious by cooking leftover meats and vegetables together. Therefore, soul food had been created and spread among African slave communities with its special cooking style. Soul food can be prepared in many different ways with different ingredients because slaves could not access stable food sources and only relied on what they were given from their masters (“The History of Soul Food”). Furthermore, various recipes of soul food had been developed since African slaves were brought from different ethnic groups in Africa and they sometimes exchanged their recipes with each other. The perspective of soul food is showing that how slaves gathered their rare food sources and tried to make those pieces into edible meals for themselves. Although this unique cooking style had been popular and widespread in African American communities, there was not an actual name for this cooking style before 1962. The 1960s can be thought as an important time period for African Americans because many events happened during the time including the creation of the term “soul food.”

In 1962, an African American poet, Amiri Baraka, who wrote a poem and was the first person that gave a name to this African American traditional cuisine. He created the term “soul food” for this unique cooking style and indicated that it is a representative cuisine in African Americans culture.

Amiri Baraka is one of famous and widely published African American writers. He was a poet and also a civil rights activist in the beginning of black civil rights movement during the 1960s (“Amiri Braka bio”). His works aimed to explore African Americans’ confidence and bring them together against racism. Since Amiri Baraka is a great writer in poem, novels, and drama, he expressed his disagreement of racism and rejected critical ideas of African American culture in his writings. African American culture was easily being misinterpreted and being seen in a worthless way by white scholars and medias. In 1962, many of white critics claimed that African American did not have their own cultural cuisines and stated African American dishes were based on white southerners. This critical opinion gave a shock to African American society, especially for those African Americans who worked on fighting equality and civil rights. Consequently, Amiri Baraka created the term “soul food” and used it in one of his poems to defense the critical viewpoint of African American traditional cuisine. He also stated “Soul food was another cultural product, possibly the most symbolic, with a strong historical lineage”(Amiri Baraka). The statement clearly shows the confidence of African American culture and successfully illuminates African Americans connect with their culture.

The original creation of the cooking style of soul food can go back to the slavery. Many slave families on plantations were given scraps of meats from their masters at the time of American slavery (“The History of Soul Food”). It means that slaves did not have chance to choose their food sources, and soul food was not based on fancy food materials or a delicate cooking style. The time period of slavery had played a significant role in African American culture. In other words, slave system and its rules contributed in developing African American culture. African people were brought to America because of slavery and had many restrictions under the system. For example, slaves were given limiting food sources; in this case, they had to develop a new cooking style to make scraps of meats and vegetables edible. In addition, African American society had been ignored and belittled for a long time until 1960s when African Americans started to fight for their civil rights and promote their culture to the world.

African Americans did not receive equality even though slavery had been officially ended in 1865. Most of African Americans still faced poverty and restrictions and public segregation (Dr. L. Pittman). It was because American society was still filled with racism and rules that gave disadvantages to African Americans in various forms of oppression. After decades of inequality and racial violence in American society, African American cultural awareness finally rose in 1955 (“Civil Rights Movement”). There were many events happened, such as Montgomery bus boycott that protested public segregation and strived for receiving civil rights. 1955 to 1968 was the time era of African American civil rights movement (“Civil Rights Movement”). Therefore, the time period is important for African Americans because it was the beginning of the rise of black pride and attempting to remove racism from the American society.

During the era of African American civil rights movement, it could be difficult for African Americans to define their own culture since historical documents were based on white viewpoints and had been spread all over the society and the world. African American traditions and cultures had also been ignored or seen to be lack in the history for a long time. However, many African American writers and activists began to correct misunderstanding of African American culture during the civil rights era. They introduced new ideas to the world about viewing African American culture and its cultural products. Soul food, for example, is one of significant cultural products among African American culture. There was no name given to this cooking style until the time period of the civil rights movement. Soul food was created to clarify that African Americans have their own traditional cuisines and shows their black pride. Today, soul food has evolved and is served with more healthy and balanced ways. Bryant Terry, for example, is a famous and rewarded African American chef who promotes creative, healthy, and fresh African American cuisine to the world. He has published recipe books, which bring new ideas of African American cuisine. Overall, African American cuisines has transformed into healthy and more delicate dishes compared to the past.

It was difficult for African Americans receive their freedom and human equality from slavery. Even after emancipation, there was still many African Americans were in poverty, illiteracy, and working on agricultural fields. The freedom of African Americans did not come smoothly but many people put their efforts in fighting for true freedom and equality.

However, I think slavery has played a significant part and is unignorable in African American history. Although the time period of slavery is horrible and dark in the history, it still contributes a lot in developing African American culture. Soul food, for example, is a cultural product that evolved from slavery. The beginning of cooking soul food could be helpless and sad since slaves were living under terrible control and were forced to migrate into the America. Nevertheless, African Americans could not be proud of their unique culture if there was no slavery. After all I believe if there wasn’t the time of slavery, global culture will not as rich as today.



Peterson, Elishia. “The History of Soul Food – Soul Train.” Soul Train RSS. Soul Train, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

“Soul-Food-History.”, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

“Civil Rights Movement.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Wolff, Anita. “Soul Food | Cuisine.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

“”Soul Food” a Brief History.” “Soul Food” a Brief History. African American Registry, 24 Feb. 1492. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

“Slavery in America.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Pittman, LaShawnDa. “The Urbanization of a Rural People.” University of Washington, Seattle. 17 Nov. 2015. Lecture.

“Seven Ways to Celebrate Black History Month.” Regina Spectrum. N.p., 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

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