Food in the context of “Blackness” has become very political, as now many of us have the luxury of choosing our foods to various extents, unlike many of our ancestors. It’s become political through systemic racism, but also for the very fact that “Black food,” is still centered around what was given to us during slavery–not as a means to nourish our bodies, but a means to keep us alive to continue our duties. Overtime we’ve taken what was given to us and have made it our own, not always acknowledging the intention behind the food we were given.
Though health is subjective to each individual, it is a fact that African Americans show up in poorly reflected health statistics that are directly tied to food consumption. “Soul food,” highly integrated in Black culture, stems from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, dominant in the South. The South, known as the home of soul food, has embedded itself into Black homes across the nation. The meals offered to the enslaved consisted of rice, which was taken from Africa, as rice isn’t indigenous to America. Cheap cuts of pork, such as the feet or ribs. And greens, which were soaked in pork fat, served with cornbread.
Because the Transatlantic Slave Trade brought Africans to America, the slaves would use the minimal ingredients they were provided to make dishes similar to that of traditional African cuisine. Cornbread was dipped into the collard greens, similarly to how Africans dip injera, an Ethiopian staple, into stews. Fufu, a Nigerian dish is also reminiscent of this, as dipping a starch into veggies and meat made African dishes well-rounded. Soul food isn’t inherently bad. It’s just lost its historic background. When we are cooking soul food, we are just making an Americanized version of African food. And when you think of American food and what it consists of, this is where we see the integration of African and American food cultures.
What I find interesting is that traditional African meals are highly nutritious. Almost always consisting of vegetables, a starch such as rice, and minimal meat; as it is expensive. Yet, the “health conscious” community is heavily overtook by the label of “whiteness.”
The politics come in when you begin stepping into “health conscious” establishments. Then you begin to see the health disparities in plain sight. Underrepresentation signals that there is a racial story behind the outcome of exclusivity. And not exclusivity in the sense that we are unwelcomed, but that we are separate from said community. A prime example is Veganism. Many people believe Veganism is attached to “white culture,” especially in the South, despite people of color being the first of this movement.
Has the Transatlantic Slave Trade indefinitely plagued the Black perspective around food?
During my health journey I’d step into juice bars, co-op’s, farm-to-table restaurants, and other sustainable food outlets to face the harsh reality of food injustice. When you ask yourself who dominates the spaces exercising ethical, sustainable food practices, and then ask yourself if these practices are indigenous to these cultures, you can find yourself in a rabbit hole. A rabbit hole full of robbery, erased history, and suppressed truths.
Affordability is another hefty topic, but I can say that it directly fuels the absence of Black inclusivity in food ethics and health and wellness. My people have always farmed, my people forage, my people nourish through food holistically as well. This is the narrative I know to be true.
The outcome of health disparities are not our originate truth, but merely our conditioning gained through survivalist times. But today, will we survive, or will we live?
Though I love a good old-fashioned home-cooked plate of soul food, I know the basis of them are not always aligned with my optimal wellbeing. With fast food corporations intentionally placed in lower income communities, and the pass down of old recipes that stem from enslavement, it is easy to fall into the narrative that $12 salads, and $9 fresh pressed juices are a “white people thing.” These are the indulgences we see of white people for historic, financial, and accessibility reasons, and Black people are often caught in the recurring cycle of “making use of what we got,” which was the basis of soul food as well.
Though, I will say, the stories behind these dishes make them powerful; as they were created from limited resources, and made into love.