Weathered wicker rocking chairs creak as the forgiving breeze gently caresses Spanish Moss trees. Condensation trickles down mason jars of homemade lemonade, an effort to combat sticky humidity. Fragrant aromas of butter and brown sugar permeate the front porch. A familiar voice bellows through the halls. “Ya’ll come on in here and get this suppa for it gets cold,” It’s time to share sustenance and stories.
Black American cuisine stems from eating patterns of the rural South. With the Great Migration, this cuisine spanned throughout the rest of the United States getting more and more seasoned with each region.
The 1960’s, a time of empowerment and racial revolution, yielded new language—it was now, soul food. You know what they say: “All Southern food isn’t soul food, but all soul food is Southern food”. It isn’t the buttermilk biscuits or smoky collards that characterize soul food, but the traditions of a people that overcame adversity. It’s the nourishment that soothed tribulation and paid homage to ancestors of the Motherland.
Cultural and Food Malpractice
While soul food became revered by many of varying ethnic backgrounds, “well-intentioned” researchers were now citing this cuisine for increased risk of chronic disease. The face of Black folks’ food was now minimized to deep-fried chicken and pickled-pig feet. With no context or compassion, it was encouraged to reduce consumption for optimal health.
In the quest to save a people from their diet, anti-black sentiment and implicit bias manifested. What we didn’t always hear about was that deep in the underbelly of soul food was Southern food and nestled under that was the food of the enslaved. Slave owner’s rationed unsatisfactory scraps, but the people made a way. And this…this undeniable struggle and perseverance bleeds through soul food. To demonize it is to trivialize the fight against systemic racism.
But what about nutrition? Can soul food really be healthy?
“Just add a little pureed carrot to your mac and cheese. No one will ever notice”. “Can’t you just replace the mayo with Greek yogurt in your deviled eggs? I’m sure it tastes the same.” *insert eye roll here*
What they didn’t say is that traditional soul food also meant:
- stewed okra and tomatoes
- rich in protein, fiber, calcium, and potassium
- salmon croquettes
- rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids
- tomato pie
- rich in vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K
- squash casserole
- rich in fiber, magnesium, calcium
- boiled peanuts
- rich in potassium, fiber, and protein
- mashed rutabagas
- rich in potassium, beta-carotene, fiber, and protein
All ethnic cuisines have traditional dishes that are nutrient-dense as well as those that are not. As we dietitians like to preach, “all foods fit” and “all cuisines fit”. Black Americans that lived during the early beginnings of soul food survived a lifestyle of overwhelming physical labor. Dishes that were high in fat and carbohydrate content were imperative for completing a day’s work. Today, that may translate to eating those dishes less frequently to align with a more sedentary lifestyle.
So, explain the statistics. Doesn’t the research say this food leads to poor health outcomes?
Health disparities stem from inequitable access to employment, education, healthcare, food access. Racial battle fatigue and ancestral trauma are terms created to spread awareness of how discrimination can lead to severe psychological distress, high blood pressure, ulcers, and impaired sleep patterns. Currently, 55% of Black American adults are reported to have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Let’s delve deeper than the diet.
As this year’s Black History month is upon us, we urge you to respect all ethnic cuisines and explore the history that paved the path to create them.
- 1 (14.75 ounce) can of pink or red salmon, undrained
- 1/3 cup finely minced yellow or white onion
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, no salt-added
- 1/4 teaspoon seafood seasoning, optional
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, fresh
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
- ¾ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/8 cup water
- 1/2 cup canola or avocado oil
- Break up the canned salmon with a fork, leaving some small chunks.
- Fold in the onion, pepper, Cajun seasoning, seafood seasoning, parsley, and lemon zest in the salmon.
- Add the breadcrumbs, egg and enough water to moisten the salmon mixture. Shape into 4 to 6 patties.
- Place patties into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and carefully add the patties. Cook until browned.
- Drain on paper towels.
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the patties and serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Deep South Dish