Sunday Stew – 002
The other day at lunch, one of my white friends asked me, “what is soul food”? I paused for a second, with my face stuck somewhere between an inevitable laugh and a sarcastic remark. “What do you, mean?”, I asked. I began to laugh. ” What, is it because I’m black? Is that why I am today’s official spokesperson for soul food?” She laughed agreeing with a simple, “well, yes”.
I then realized that this wasn’t the making of a cliché conversation between a two women- one white, one black. Her was question was one that still held value in 2014.. After all of the cookbooks, blogs, histories and many mainstream covers by various food stars, people really don’t understand the concept. That it’s not a concept unique to only African-Americans.
“Everyone, every group has soul food, Erin.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Jennifer, I am telling you, we don’t. For the purposes of this conversation, you can consider me an authorized spokesperson. I cannot think of one signature dish or meal combination that is representative of white people or my family, specifically.”
“Yeah, ya’ do. It’s called Shepherd’s Pie!”
I continued. “That’s when white folks take all of their favorite produce- potatoes, corn, carrots, beef,- mash ’em up, completely cook them once, turn back around, combine them in a casserole and cook them again, with cheese! It doesn’t get whiter than that, Erin! Other groups don’t put all of our resources in one pot. We don’t like to take our chances that way.”
With her forehead in her hand, she laughed out a memory of how her great-aunt would bring a huge dish of Shepherd’s Pie to every Christmas dinner, with “Christ is Born” spelled out with lady peas on top. “God, she was so eccentric!” We laughed until our stomachs hurt, until the people next to us began to laugh with our laughter, not even aware of the topic.
That’s what soul food is! It’s the laughter, the tears, surrounding signature meals that have been created by and shared with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends, which create lifetime memories and robustly shared stories. Each ingredient is a documentation of our history and culture. It later shares our stories with others in a plate, or a bowl. Soul food is the “down to the nitty-gritty” of a group’s foods- the stuff that we want to scrape from around the side of the pot because it has the most flavor. The stuff that someone stood on their feet for hours making so that we may be tempted to slide our finger across our dish to get the last drop, when no one is looking.
Soul food is Fried Chicken, Salt Fish, Miso Soup, Daal, Doro Wett, Gazpacho, Paella, Beef Stew, Jerk Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, Bobotie, Lamb Moussaka, Falafel, Baklava, Pickled Cucumber Salad, Lentil Stew, and Shepherd’s Pie. The list is continuous. Every culture, every group has a soul food!
If you find yourself sitting around the table saying, “I remember when…”, “What ever happened to…?”, “This reminds me of…”, “When I was a kid, my grandmother used too…”, or anything of the sorts, you’re likely indulging in soul food. It can be eaten alone, but seems better when shared with others. That’s Soul Food!
I hope you enjoyed your Sunday Stew! I look forward to serving you more next week!