Soul Food: Beyond February


Soul! You gotta have soul! The term soul is used to identify a genre of music and food in African American culture. Soul is to have a joyous emotion. It points to a feeling and way of life—and that feeling is used in dancing, singing, and even cooking! This goes beyond any month—it’s a genre. It’s just that! Soul!

Let’s look at soul food!

One definition of soul food is: the foods and techniques associated with the African American cuisine of the United States. The term was first used in print in 1964 during the rise of “Black pride,” when many aspects of African American culture—including soul music—were celebrated for their contribution to the American way of life.

Soul food is all about identity, expression, and really just good home cooking. Soul foods, soul music, and inspirational times are just great comfort, and outstanding cuisine in the south and beyond.

Soul food—as the definition points out—is about technique. It’s also about presentation and love.

Some of the best soul foods stem from traditional southern cooking, but also have great influence from Africa!

Soul food on a Sunday afternoon is usually prepared by the elders and/or the cooks of the family. Lots of love, pride, and excitement goes into the process. Joy of serving and the joy of watching others relish the dishes is what one will notice! Always delicious and loving!

The feeling around eating and embracing others with soul food is also a way to ease issues and deficits in families and communities. This means enough food is prepared so that anyone who may be hungry can eat and at least have a good time. Cooking soul food is a revolutionary act!

Some popular chefs have taken this method, love, and resilience into various communities and even social justice avenues, making worldwide statements…

Tunde Wey, New Orleans

Nigerian chef Tunde Wey has, until very recently, been traveling around the country serving pop-up meals as part of a series called “Blackness in America.” Over meals of jollof rice and pepper soup, Wey moderated intentionally uncomfortable discussions about what it means to be a person of color in America today. Wey is now running a new pop-up in New Orleans called Saartj that specifically challenges diners to confront the reality of racially-motivated economic injustice throughout the country. (Thank you, Tunde, for having those conversations!)

Michael Twitty, Virginia 

Chef, writer, and food scholar Michael Twitty has been cooking and writing about the food of enslaved Africans for years, but it wasn’t until 2013—when he penned an “open letter” to Paula Deen after she was sued for using racial slurs (the n-word!) in her restaurant—that Twitty catapulted to fame. Since then, he has been a speaker at the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, been named one of the most influential food bloggers of all time by First We Feast, and has published “The Cooking Gene,” a book that simultaneously tackles his own genealogy and the culinary history of enslaved Africans across the South.

Soul food is tasty and sacred. Absolutely delicious. Wanna try some soul food? Here are a few dishes that perhaps you can prepare or order for your family at your next gathering:

  • Chicken (usually fried)
  • Fried fish
  • Pork with chitins on top (pig intestines)
  • Black-eyed peas, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, stewed greens (cabbage, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens)
  • Cornbread or muffins
  • Red drink: Kool-Aid, punch, or something else red
  • Peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, banana pudding, or pound cake (Check here and here for some dessert ideas!)

There are other dishes that considered soul but these will get you started!

But remember, when cooking and or serving soul food, have the heart of family, community, and desire to fulfill needs in mind! That’s soul baby!

Robin Harris is an activist for Black, LGBTQIA, low-income, and other marginalized people. She is an organizer for Central Florida Mutual Aid and collaborates with GO Humanity service team Orlando Oasis on disaster recovery.

GO Humanity organizes poverty alleviation efforts around the globe with an emphasis on empowering vulnerable communities.