Soul Food February

Photo of a plate of soul food: beef tips and gravy, white rice, green beans, with the words Soul Food is Healthy

This month where Black History is observed, learned, taught, and made (Erin Johnson!) is also a time where the cultural markers are fondly discussed. For me, there are so many things that add so much to this month (and all year) but none so near and dear to me and my business as soul food.

In my holistic coaching practice, relationships with food are often a center focus. And no wonder: food provides more than just fuel and nourishment for the body. Food is wonderfully delicious; it is a focal point for gatherings and memory-making events. It soothes our minds, bodies, and, of course, souls.

Which brings me to soul food–that comforting, rich, food of my culture and upbringing. These cultural foods have brought laughter, joy, and healing to me and my kin for as long as I can remember. I am aware that most think of southern soul food as unhealthy “slave food”. This is in no small part to the effects of diet culture; it’s demonization of certain foods and practices that do not uphold white body supremacy (more on this later). It has purported that soul food is unhealthy and sadly, quite a lot of people have believed the hype! But to those of us who know, soul food is so much more than fried foods and sugared-up side dishes. It is a food that sustains, fortifies, and nourishes.

Foods of the African diaspora have influenced cuisine the world over. Africans brought grains like sorghum and millet, cooking styles like stews and simmered greens, and an affinity for plant-based diets that used animals as sides and not the features of meals. What has happened, however, is partly the loss of dietary diversity and partly the negative, colonized thoughts about soul food that have resulted in loss of recipes, families wanting to ditch the foods that remind of enslavement, poverty, and wrongly blamed for the bad health of Black people.

The foods of my childhood, family, and culture included so much more. My mother and father often told stories of dishes of fresh veggies from family gardens, seasoned with herbs and love. Both of my parents were from large families and one thing that was common was the small amounts of meat they ate, due to price or availability. As I grew up with my sister, my father maintained a substantial garden and we had some pigs and chickens. I daresay we grew up more on a modified SAD diet but thanks to my parents we had veggies year-round. Both of my parents enjoyed growing food, raising animals, and other self-sufficiency practices. Today, these skills and passions have served me well once I returned to them!

Soul foods, as I feel about any cultural foods, should be a part of a balanced diet. Those cultural practices that have served our predecessors should be honored, preserved, and if possible, practiced. I garden, can veggies, and enjoy my cultural foods like greens, cornbread, succotash, and yams. While preparation of these foods can vary widely and affect the nutrition, they cannot receive the blame for the diseases that affect Black people at a disproportionate rate. Other factors including but not limited to the environment, systemic effects of racism (stress, subpar care, physiological effects), and behavioral patterns all affect one’s health and well-being.

There is a current movement of activists and advocates to decolonize spaces and concepts that have prohibited the free and sovereign of peoples; where colonial views and practices have settlers have occupied land, dictate social, political, and economic systems, and exploit people and their resources in the support of the colonists’ viewpoint and benefit. So this February, I challenge you to decolonize your plate–enjoy yours or the cultural foods of others. Become aware of your thoughts and opinions of the foods you have demonized and consider why and where the influence for those thoughts have originated.

As for me and my house, we will enjoy chicken and gravy, simmered greens (with hot sauce), beans and rice, and drink red luscious brews like sorrel or jamaica (depending on where you are from!) Embracing our cultural foods is one way that we eat free and live free every day. For truly, soul food is good for the mind, body, and soul.

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