African American Food and Culture
Primary Author: Patrick Carney
The primary author is the individual who drafted the first version of this section; a section that could have been modified since it was originally published.
Origins of Food
All African American food and culture can be traced back to its original roots in Africa. Certain foods became popular in Africa based off of region and availability of animals, crops, and supplies. Some of the popular meals carried over to the United States from African include gumbo, chicken garnished with peanuts, black-eyed peas or pigeon peas, rice, yams, and watermelon. Other foods include sesame seeds, cowpeas, sorghum, oranges, avocados, bananas, spinach, maize, and coconuts. Africans also brought over their skills and traits along with their food. According to Anne Bower, "Africans in several regions of the continent played significant roles in developing agriculture, domesticating plants, and dispersing of food plants and culinary styles to other parts of the world".
Atlantic Slave Trade
The Atlantic Slave Trade is an essential part of the history of African American food and culture. The trade moved millions of Africans, sugar, tobacco, rum, rice, cotton, molasses, and other goods from Africa to Europe and the United States. According to Bower "Virtually all Africans who came to the United States, whether before or after the formation of the Republic, came from what were food-growing societies to primarily the southern states, where they were reemployed in agriculture." This was the starting point for the cultural influence food would have on African Americans.
Available Food During Slavery
Modern day African American food and culture has a strong connection to slavery. Most slaves and slave chefs were to use the foods available to them during this time period. According to What the Slaves Ate, "Even though there is recorded concern expressed by slaveholders for the well being of their slaves, for the most part the health conditions of slaves was of economic concern for plantation owners". This means that slave owners were mostly interested in the output of work by the slaves, rather than their overall well-being. Slave chefs were given very limited resources for food and they had to creatively create meals for slaves. This limitation actually came as a form of freedom and expression for slave cooks and African Americans. The kitchen was a form of art for slaves chefs and one of their only outlets where they made the decisions and got to show their creative thinking. This was a bonding point for slaves and slave chefs during this time period.
Soul Food and Comfort Food
Soul food or "comfort food" were developed over several years. Soul food wasn't officially named until the 1960's, but it has been a great influence on African American culture since the slavery era. According to Herbert C. Covey and Dwuight Eisnach, "Contrary to the stereotype of Africans having no culture, the existence and continual creation of soul food demonstrates a creation composed of a variety of elements from Africa, the Americas, and many European sources." Soul food comes from creativity, experience, and passion. They also argue that "As the cultural production of African Americans, soul food demonstrates the manner in which, in the face of unfavorable social conditions, slaves involved themselves collectively in creating new cuisine that addressed problems of nutritional adequacy and ethic and racial identity." These meals prepared during this slave era still exist today and bring great cultural influence not only on African American culture, but also Southern American culture. Soul food lives on through the generations and will continue to be a place of comfort for African Americans for years to come.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Bower, Anne. African American Foodways: Explorations of History & Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
Covey, Herbert C, and Dwight Eisnach. What the Slaves Ate: Recollections of African American Foods and Foodways from the Slave Narratives. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press, 2009. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.