Food, Community & Government

The Birth of Soul Food

Michael W. Twitty

Lesson time 10:00 min

Learn about the rise of contemporary soul food in the United States and the migratory patterns that contributed to the proliferation of Southern cuisine.

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Topics include: A Memory Cuisine • A Cuisine of Migrations • Dissecting Your Plate


- For the benefit of the wider audience, I want to kind of define soul food. In its broadest sense, soul food is the vernacular cuisine of African-American people, particularly those coming out of the American South. That can be defined by the US Census South. It can be defined by the Confederacy, former Confederacy. It can be defined by the Mason-Dixon line. But it's not just located there. It's the food that moved with Black people during the Great Migration, when they ran away from enslavement and sought their freedom. As they went out West on the cattle trail, as they went out West to pan gold in California, when they went to go fight wars, all of those migrations and patterns spread a cuisine that's based on rural cooking, corn, pork, fish, chicken, leafy greens, black eyed peas or cow peas, peanuts, tomatoes, okra, rice, and the like. It's about food that comes from the farm, food that comes from the fields, the air, the water. And it's a food ways that is based on elements of West Central African tradition, European food ways from England, France, Germany and other parts of Western Europe, and ingredients that have a strong basis in Native American Indigenous cooking. So it's a mixture of all of those different elements that has become a cuisine of renown throughout the world. I've been known to say-- you may know this-- that soul food is the memory cuisine of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the enslaved. So in a lot of ways, soul food comes about as Black folks who are one to two generations born in the West, Midwest, and the Northeast are looking back of their southern origins in the same way that their colleagues, their girlfriends and boyfriends, their frenemies and enemies in other ethnic communities are looking at their own ethnic food ways and giving shape to them in New York, or Chicago, or Oakland, or beyond, LA. So soul food the term comes about in the 1960s along with terms like soul music, soul people. And as I've been known to say, and I'll say it again and again and again, there's no shame in that. Because we named our cuisine after something transcendental and invisible, like love and God. We called it soul, something eternal, something you have to feel that can't be touched, other than by means of spirit. And then there's Soul, the big S, and soul, the little s. So you may be asking, what am I talking about? Well, there's soul food the canon, and there's soul food the construct. So as we discuss these common ancestral heritage foods and how they all connect and intersect and match up, and you connect the dots, that's the construct or the principles of flavor and ideas of what goes together, and what matches, what can be paired. Versus soul food the canon, where we have, soul food has to be a plate of greens, Collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken, and you have to have hot sauce with it. You've got to do this, and da, da, da. Well, that may not be the soul foo...

About the Instructor

Through years of unearthing his African American heritage, bestselling author of The Cooking Gene Michael W. Twitty discovered undeniable ties between his ancestors’ past and his own palate. Now he’s teaching how you can get a taste of your family history through food. Explore the migrations that informed the ingredients in your kitchen—then re-create the dishes that helped shape who you are.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Michael W. Twitty

James Beard Award–winning author of The Cooking Gene teaches how to trace your culinary roots through the food your ancestors ate.

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