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Ancestral Cooking Forum

History of Soul Food Movement

african american cookbook collection
(Tuscaloosa News/Michael E. Palmer)

Books trace history of soul food movement
By Ashley Boyd Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 3:30 a.m.

According to the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library Public & Outreach Services Coordinator Jessica Lacher-Feldman, the David Walker Lupton collection of African-American cookbooks is unique in tracing the history of the soul food movement, which is centered around African-American cooking, with traditional recipes that remain popular today.

'I see these books as a way of understanding ‘soul food' in a couple of different ways.,' Lacher-Feldman said.
'We think about ‘soul food' as representing the culinary heritage of making the less expensive ingredients — or things that could be gathered and were plentiful — delicious, satisfying and sustaining.

Foods like greens, especially the tops of turnips, dandelion greens and the lesser cuts of meat such as pig's feet, organs and pieces like the tongue and tail, how these things are used and made palatable and why these ingredients are still used and coveted as delicacies today.'

The collection documents the soul food movement from its origins and into kitchens today in more healthy incarnations.
According to the non-profit education organization, The African American Registry, the history of American soul food began during the days of slavery, when slaves creatively paired leftover and the less desirable parts of meat with homegrown vegetables to create what came to be known as the first soul food dishes.

A characteristic of true African-American soul food is that nothing is wasted.
'Stale bread was quickly converted into stuffing or bread pudding. Overripe bananas were whipped up into banana puddings, and other ripe fruits were put into cakes and pies, and leftover fish parts were made into croquets or hush puppies,' according to
And while soul food, also known as 'comfort food,' still remains a staple in African-American communities today, it is a diet that comes with heavy precautions.

According to 'The Healthy Soul Food Cookbook,' a cookbook in the collection, 'an African American table may be filled with such soul food staples as collard greens, ham hocks, corn bread, and sweet potato pie. The good news has always been that soul food is delicious, hearty and laden with tradition. The bad news is that much of it is also laden with fat, cholesterol, sodium and excess sugar.'

While adding heavy fats and sugar was important during slavery, to give those who ate the food the energy to work, the same is no longer true today.

'Our lives have changed dramatically since then. And many of us, as our forebears did, stir in as much butter, lard, and fatty pan drippings as it takes to make a dish taste wonderful. Numerous research studies have proven that excess fat increases the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease or cancer. Soul food — our fabled, spirited fare — is frequently too high in fat and salt, and a link to numerous and widespread health problems in our community,' according to Jonell Nash, the author of 'Low-Fat Soul.'

Max Young, a nutritionist in Denver, said her concerns about soul food center around quantity and fat content.
'Have you ever been to a soul food restaurant where the portions are small, and you leave feeling just satisfied? If it has happened, it happens very rarely,' she said. 'Soul food notoriously leaves the consumer five pounds heavier and also five times happier. Soul food does exactly what its name entails. It enriches your soul and subsequently your gut.'

The cover of Low-Fat Soul, a cookbook from the David Walker Lupton collection seen here Friday July 18, 2008 in the William Stanley Hoole Special Collections Library in Tuscaloosa.

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