From scratch: how soul food became a staple in Black culture

You’re reading From Scratch, a series deconstructing the food we eat to explore their history, variety and the way we consume them. 

The category of soul food holds deep roots in Black culture and has had a hand in bringing people together for all types of occasions. 

From family reunions to birthdays and weddings, soul food has been a staple in Black family gatherings for generations. 

The History 

Stepping back from the filling lure of modern-day soul food, the dish’s origins stem from the days of slavery in the South. 

According to Black Foodie, a Black-owned food platform, the Black community was left with scraps to conjure into meals for their families. Today, soul food is associated with indulgence and gluttony, but it came out of a place of making do with what was available. 

Rice, okra, pork and boiled greens are four examples of soul food staples that can be tied back to slavery, according to Black Foodie

Slave traders took crops that were native to Africa to feed enslaved people on ships. Slaves used rice as a medium alongside whatever was available and created dishes like jambalaya. 

Slaves were usually given the undesirable parts of the animal to cook with. According to Britannica, pig intestines, known as “chitlins” or “chitterlings,” were often used, and today they’re still used in soul food cooking.

Slaves took the less desirable cuts of meat and cooked them over a fire with various seasonings and sauces, creating the famous style of cooking, barbecue. 

The Variety 

Soul food has an array of options, from sides to main courses and even desserts. The variety within the cuisine is a big part of its appeal and versatility.

Side dishes like mac and cheese, cornbread and collard greens are often looked forward to at the dinner table. These simple sides are easy to alter, and many families have their own versions.

Nursing sophomore LaNaiya Parker said mac and cheese is her favorite soul food dish, a classic she never gets tired of.

Parker grew up eating fried chicken, cabbage, greens and her mom’s mac and cheese casserole, she said.

Her family would also eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, Parker said, because the side dish is believed to bring eaters prosperity in the new year. 

Computer science senior Madison Adams said her favorite soul food dishes are collard greens and cornbread because they’re a staple in her family. 

“My dad grew up cooking it and eating it, and he really loves it, so we tend to eat it almost every week,” Adams said. 

The Impact 

Parker’s grandmother lives in southeast Texas, and she doesn’t see her often, so when Parker goes to visit she makes sure they bake sweet potato pie together like old times. 

Parker said her job is usually the taste-tester because she can’t cook, but she makes an exception to help with her grandma’s pie. 

Adams said her family’s pretty country, so at any family get-together you see candied yams and fried fish. Today, those dishes make her happy because they remind Adams of summers spent with her relatives. 

No matter which soul food dish is being served, it brings families together through flavor and tradition. 

@alexushurtado

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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