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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
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
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
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 a merican k itchen
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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