Soul black women and food
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Soul, Black Women, and Food. Author: Marvalene H. Hughes (yes, an African American Woman) Presenter: Frank Doering (not an African American woman).

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Soul, Black Women, and Food

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Soul, Black Women, and Food

Author: Marvalene H. Hughes

(yes, an African American Woman)

Presenter: Frank Doering

(not an African American woman)

  • The Womens Liberation movement and sex revolution marked a period in U.S. history in which people searched back in time for answers to their identity, or “roots.”

  • The author, Hughes, believes the show Roots largely contributed to this new-found personal “quest” to learn one’s own ‘ancestral culture and genetic origin.”

  • African Americans use “soul food” as an essential device in search of “roots.”

    • Black history has been handed down through oral tradition--at family events—where soul food is prepared and served

    • A black woman’s “meal preparation conveys her expression of love, creativity, patience, historical struggles, and her own “African heritage.”

Defining the “roots” of soul food

  • Roots--stabilized in the dirt, beneath a plant—represent what “soul food” is

  • Actual plant roots—yams or sweet potatoes– have been the staple of African American diet since the 1500s.

  • Throughout the slave trade Africans stowed seeds to carry their tradition of root foodstuffs

    • Some of these African native seeds have become as American as apple pie (southern states, mostly)

      • Watermelon, okra-an essential seasoning in gumbo

  • Cherishing their native seeds through slave trade transportation may be the most symbolic representation of preserving African American ethnicity through “soul food.”

Pride in cooking and robust tummies

  • Classic soul foods originated from the white man’s “throwaways” –pig’s feet, chitlins, hog jowl, etc…

    -Black women were able to make something delicious out of nothing

  • Black women gain self-confidence in watching family, friends, consumers, even white folk devour their cooked meals full of “soul”

  • A “plump” midsection proves a black woman’s skill and craft in the kitchen

  • “Big is beautiful” to Black Americans

    -represents health and prosperity

  • Receiving praise from children/grandchildren is much appreciated by a black woman…feeding family makes a black woman the “happiest”

Black Women in the American Kitchen

  • Started as illiterate slaves needing recipes read to them

    • Relied on basic senses, “soulful intuition” and “cultural knowledge”

    • No measuring…dashes, pinches, a scoop

  • Therefore, recipes passed orally

    • Allowed creativity

    • Mixing of African traditions with white cooking techniques

      • secretly passes slave tastes into white mouths

  • Home cooked soul-food still observed, even culturally preferred in a world of “eating out”

    • Less eating out stereotypes a black family as economically deprived, though

  • Suburban black families will even travel to the “ghetto” in search of fresh soul food

    • Whether you live in the ghetto or in the suburbs, the same foods are still served at your barbeques

  • The core of black culture is expressed in soul food

    • “soul” is part of African American origin that has been culturally consistent throughout history

      • After human layers have been peeled the impenetrable “sapphire” shines…that is soul!

  • Fresh fruits and veggies

    • Black women cultivate a seasonal garden full of soulful fruits and veggies like: squash, watermelon, string beans, green peas, radishes, beets, sweet corn, tomatoes

Personal fulfillment of planting and harvesting a garden

  • A sense of pride

  • Takes on back to family roots

  • Can become “reconnected with African culture in a private, intimate, and historical sense

  • Provides a “spiritual” connection to the earth

  • Serves as a “channel” for African respect for land and living things

Western culture confusing Blacks

  • American culture is full of labels:

    • Good v. bad, black v. white, pretty v. ugly, educated v. uneducated, privileged v. underprivileged, etc…

    • When blacks accept these labels, they are perpetuating black oppression

    • Even using these labels on one another

  • Opposing labels portray an intolerance toward African roots as westerners impose their will and culture over the African American culture (any non-white culture)

    • No such thing as a “melting pot” in America

    • We do not blend cultures

    • No matter prepares it, though, soul food is soul food

      • Just as blacks adopted western techniques, Americans have adopted black kitchen behaviors

Cooking as a profession

  • Blacks tend to not gain any strides toward economic development

    • Gap between professional advancement has widened

    • Many blacks, mostly women, still working in white kitchens (privately or commercially)

      • still nurturing the white folk and still destined for poverty

      • a continuation of slavery

Soul Food and Religion

  • Unlike many religions, food and religious/spiritual rituals go hand-in-hand

    • Eating during a ritual religious experience describes a special celebration for blacks

    • Spiritual=soulful; African Americans, without soul food, would not be who they are today

  • The black preacher is very special person

    • Responsible for passing oral history

    • Always gets first choice at the meal part of any religious doings


  • Due to social discriminations, blacks could not go into restaurants until the 60s

    • Packed lunches and shared with one another

  • A core of black food celebrations is sharing

    • Ex. A hog killing is a community event in which all partake

      • One of few events that constitutes clear gender roles

Gender roles

  • Cooking is a role of both men and women because it is an essential occupation in black economic survival

  • Black women sometimes have to take on the role of economic provider for herself and family

  • She is still the dominant character in the kitchen

What’s for dinner, momma?

  • When a black man asks this question, he is “paying her the highest possible compliment”

    • No perverse connotations with this expression

    • It implies that “momma” is providing the nourishing food for the spirit and physical individual

3 daily meals in the black kitchen:

  • Breakfast- morning- homemade biscuits, grits, ham or bacon, molasses, fresh milk, fresh eggs, fried chicken, or pork chops

  • Dinner- around noontime- collard greens with “pot licker” bread, potatoes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, meat, cobbler (canned or fresh fruits)

  • Supper- a lighter meal in evening- creamy fruits, biscuits, ice cream, fried chicken, creamed potatoes, fresh buttermilk

  • Snacks: cornbread, baked corn, fresh fruits and veggies


  • Most foods served in any of the 3 meals are nutritious

    • Inherited from Africa and emphasized by slave masters (wanted their salve machines to be running well)

    • Can be viewed as an economic choice

  • Although mostly nutritious, soul food is sometimes connected to high blood pressure and other diseases among blacks

    • But Hughes suggests that those diseases are more correlated with social and economic settings

Black, female body

  • The stereotype- “Aunt Jemima”

    • Although the white ideal is a slim and petite body on a woman, this plays no importance to a black woman

    • Hughes is 5’4” 120 pounds and her mother is consistently worried about her weight

    • With constant oppression from the surrounding society, food can become an escape for black women

Pleasure of eating and feeding

  • Black women may “stuff their mouths full of food” to escape the oppressive realities she lives in

    • This act is has been defined as a coping device for a psychological “feeling of emptiness”

    • Overeating to cope with emotional stress

    • Feeding family and loved ones has become one of very few pleasures a black women may experience in the severely deprived and economically depressed black community she lives in

      • Soul food preparation and indulging may only be a short-term pleasure, but short-term pleasure is better than no pleasure

      • The soul shall live on

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