For Love Of Chitlins: The Important History Behind This Debated Soul Food Staple

chitlins being offered at a restaurant
Briona Lamback
March 21, 2024

Chitlins get a bad rap. You either love or hate the cooked animal intestines doused in hot sauce and liable to funk up the entire house. Smelliness aside, the Southern delicacy is an integral part of history we shouldn't turn up our noses at.

There's a common misconception that chitlins were just scraps given to enslaved folks. Our people consumed cuts of meat like the feet and stomach, which enslavers considered undesirable, while they kept the higher-valued cuts like the leg and back for themselves.

Little did they know, we had been eating high on the hog for generations. Enslaved Africans didn't see chitlins as scraps because they were used to cooking all edible animal parts and consuming them ritually

Making chitlins isn't easy. Properly cleaning and preparing them takes time, patience, and culinary prowess. Our people weren't enjoying them alone. They fed the entire plantation–chitlins were always more than unwanted leftovers.

During Jim Crow times, our folks let out a deep ancestral sigh if they sat down at a restaurant and saw chitlins on the menu because it indicated a safe space, free of anti-Black terror. They could eat and enjoy live music from artists like Billie Holiday in peace along The Chitlin' Circuit.

We've always been skilled at turning nothing into something. Chitlins kept us safe and nourished our souls, too. We can never accept anti-Black narratives about us as truth.

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