Our food belongs to a culinary legacy encompassing centuries of creativity, resourcefulness, and community.
There wasn’t freedom to choose what we consumed during enslavement. According to soul-food-scholar Adrian Miller, enslaved people received a five-pound starch allotment, small portions of salted or smoked meat, and a jug of molasses each week.
They supplemented their diets by fishing, foraging, hunting, and raising livestock. They grew transplanted vegetables like okra and leaned on ancestral West African farming knowledge.
With the Reconstruction Era came sharecropping. Then soul food became part of fellowshipping at church, where food was as much prayer as sustenance. Special occasion foods like fried fish and sweet potato pie were for Sundays, while weekday diets mirrored enslavement ones, including seasonal vegetables, small amounts of meat and cornbread.
Food patterns changed with The Great Migration. Miller writes, “Just like any other immigrant group arriving in a new place, the people who moved tried to recreate home and build community, and food was a critical factor to achieving both.”
“Sunday food” became a mainstay, but crowded cities with readily available processed food made home cooking challenging.
The 1960s saw soul food become a connector of culture during the Black Power Movement. Today, it’s a beautiful melding of centuries of history. It’s farm-to-table, sometimes vegan, in our favorite restaurants and on Big Mama’s table.
Like us, soul food is dynamic and has always been more than meets the fork.