Cheryl is a licensed, ordained minister and has a BA in Psychology and Church ministry.
Soul food origins
Many African Americans have grown up eating what is traditionally known as "soul food." The origins of this fat-filled diet come from when Africans were first enslaved in the United States. Slaves could only eat what they received from their masters, which was basically the worst diet ever. The books "Queen," by Alex Haley and "Jubilee" by Margaret Walker, both give similar, true accounts that were passed down by Haley's grandmother for whom his book is named, and Walker's grandma Vyry.
Both accounts say the plantation owners forced the slaves to cook delicious meals for their families and then expected them to work in the fields all day on a substandard diet. For example, the masters would dine on roast pig, while their free help had to scavage the leftovers. Slaves ate the intestines from the hog in order to survive, This is why many black people in America enjoy chitterlings. This meal like many others has been passed down through the generations but is not very healthy. Hog guts are greasy, full of fat, and cholesterol. Even so, they are a staple in many African American homes, especially during the holiday season.
Accounts differ regarding the slave diet
In both "Jubilee" and "Queen" it is emphasized that slaves did not eat well, and often had to steal to stay alive. These books say smokehouses would be broken into and hams and other meat would be stolen. They also indicate that cooks in the big house would hide biscuits, cake, and other delicacies in the various pockets in their aprons and other clothing. There are other accounts, however, that indicate that enslaved Africans in America ate pretty well.
According to the Civil War RX, there were situations where slaves ate better than their masters because they were allowed to grow their own gardens. This sounds as if they had a steady diet of fresh green vegetables, but neither Alex Hailey nor Margaret Walker indicates this in the chronicles of their grandmothers. Vyry and Queen state that the best food went to the plantation owners and their families. Another example from both is the slave owners eating delicious cornbread, while the slaves ate corn pone, which is a flatbread made from cornmeal and water.
Meals considered as soul food
According to the African American registry , soul food dates back to 1492 and consists of cuisine prepared for and by African Americans living in the southern states, which happen to be the region where white Americans owned slaves. In addition to chitterlings, soul food includes, chow-chow which is a homemade pickle relish that is pretty spicy. It is often made with green tomatoes. cabbage, green tomatoes, corn, and other vegetables. Chow chow is most often used as a side dish with pinto beans.
Other soul food items are ham, cracklings/AKA pork rinds come from the fat on the back of hogs, and actual fatback which is cured, salted pork and used to season green vegetables and other foods. Both Queen and Vyry gave accounts of slaves and poor whites surviving at times on nothing but salted pork back, which is not a healthy diet. Pigs feet, beef neck bones, and ham hocks are also popular in soul food restaurants and the homes of many blacks in the United States.
There are a number of other foods and side dishes that compete a soul food dish, but the point is that `the diet is high in fat which is dangerous and plays a part in the mortality rate of African Americans. The down-home southern style of cooking is full of salt, sugar, butter, and fat which raises blood pressure, cholesterol and leads to a number of other ailments. It's time for African Americans to begin eating healthy and not continue a diet that can kill.
Moderation is the key
The medical community is in agreement that diets high in fat can lead to elevated cholesterol levels, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Sadly many soul food meals are smothered in grease which increases risk factors for heart disease and A 2016 study indicates that heart-related issues were the number one cause of death for African Americans. Enjoying soul food on special occasions and eating it along with veggies and fruit is one way to decrease the negative side effects. Eating fat filled meals on a daily basis, or eating ham, chitterlings, and pig feet in the same meal is not very wise. If you are not able to entirely cut out the unhealthy foods, moderation is the key.
Don't overload with salt, sugar, grease and butter. Instead, try healthy herbs and spices to season your food. Also, consider cutting down on portion size and the number of portions you eat. African Americans should also consider that their ancestors did not have much choice in their daily diet, and ate what they could to survive. Black people in America today have the blessing of being able to choose, and therefore should choose carefully and wisely what they eat.
A soul food diet does not have to be a death sentence, but if left unchanged may lead to illness and disease that can cut your life short. You don't have to accept what has run through your family line for decades because you have the power to say the buck stops here. Your ancestors did not have the ability to say no but you can. Many African Americans are deciding to ditch the slave diet, eat healthier and live longer, so can you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Cheryl E Preston
Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on February 14, 2019:
This message is important and long overdue! When I was in the Army, I was stationed in Georgia and Texas. There was soul food everywhere, even in the DFAC. I gorged myself because I was young and stupid. Now I know better. Sadly, not everyone learns how to eat right until it's too late.