Much of what we consider “soul food” is a result of dire circumstances.
Slave owners hoarded the finest food for themselves, and forced our ancestors to make do with cast-offs and scraps. However, with our creativity and resilience, our ancestors took those circumstances and created magic - what’s now called “soul food.”
Fried catfish has its origin in the fact that often, Saturday afternoons were a break from the backbreaking labor that occurred throughout the week. Some enslaved people would go fishing, and, upon return, cook up something special that would bring the community together.
Late summer fish fries continue that tradition in Black communities throughout the country.
Okra has its origin in Ethiopia and continues to be a staple, especially in gumbo - which comes from the term “ki ngombo,” the Bantu word for okra.
Collard greens are traditionally boiled with pork, with the leftover juices soaked up with biscuits or cornbread - a creative take on the traditional African use of “fufu” or “injera” to do the same.
Our ancestors’ creativity and resilience shine through when we eat soul food. It’s an opportunity to see into the window of their lives - a generational cultural connection.
As Georgia farmer Cornelia Walker Bailey put it, "Everybody needs to keep in touch with their ancestors, and through food is one of the best ways.”