- All right, I'm out here making my own plate 'cause I'm woke like that, all right?
We got the collards, all right.
Collards make me holler.
Smoked to oblivion, all right.
Now we got the chicken, that's one.
Okay, now we gotta be strategic, you feel me, all right?
We got my cousin's mac and cheese, just a little bit of that.
Then we got Aunty Mae's mac and cheese, all right, medium-sized portion.
Then you got my mama's mac and cheese, so let me just, all right.
Then we got, what is, baby girl!
- Hey, uncle.
- Uh, this you?
- Yeah, this is me.
It is a delightful kale, tri-kale blend salad.
We have baby kale, Tuscan kale, curly kale, and a little bit of jicama sprinkled in.
- Jica who?
- And then to top it off, there's this lovely, vinaigrette-- - Uh - with a little bit of herb.
- So it's raw?
- Yeah, it's raw.
- Give it over.
- Hand it.
- Uncle, no.
This is good-- - It hurts me more than it hurts you baby girl.
- This is good for you.
This is good for you.
Your heart condition - I'm a grown man, got me out here eatin' grass.
- (sighs) - [Niece] This is messed up.
Mom, get your brother man.
- If you're of the African diaspora, you probably have meals that remind you of yo skin folk and yo kin folk.
- Mm hm.
- Some of these foods were born out of the constraints of the times, but have since evolved to be celebratory.
- And protected.
- Hallease gets if the collard's not hit-- - And I need a hit.
- If you've been to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I know you were like okay okay, artifacts.
But what's the museum restaurant lookin' like though?
- And it's not just us, all right.
According to UC Berkeley professor and sociologist, Claude Fischler, food is central to everyone's sense of identity.
The way any given human group eats helps to assert its diversity and hierarchy.
And at the same time, both its oneness and the otherness of whoever eats differently.
- Hence, Uncle Darnell trying to revoke your black card.
With all that being said from Fischler though, some foods were eaten out of absolute necessity.
So, should you be eating chitlins anymore?
- Ehh I don't know why we still do it.
I don't know.
- And we wanna find out.
So pause this video, go take the chicken out the freezer before your mom gets home, 'cause we're talkin' soul food.
(funky jazz music) - Soul food comes from the unique circumstances of enslaved Africans that arrived in what is now, the southern United States.
It's not just sweet potato pie, mac and cheese.
It's the ingredients, cooking techniques, and eating habits that were informed by their countries of origin and their newfound status as a slave.
- Let's take corn.
We're too woke to watch it with the same eyes now, but if you remember anything from Disney's Pocahontas, you know that corn is abundant here.
- And Africans were already familiar with that ingredient as Portuguese trade brought the crop to West African nations a long time ago.
- It became a staple food for enslaved people and took many different forms.
Pone bread is a cornmeal mush.
Hominy or Indian corn was used to make grits.
And records show, that while white folks use sorghum, or guinea corn to feed pigs, black foods used it to make bread or porridge.
- In South Carolina, a dish called turn meal was essentially West African fufu.
But with corn, instead of cassava or some other root vegetable.
And the act of mixing grain or starch with water, is common throughout all of Africa.
In Kenya it's called ngima or ugali.
I didn't like it growing up, but it sticks to your ribs and gets the job done.
- And remember, if you're working in the fields, you need your meals to be portable.
So cornmeal and water mixtures evolved into hoecakes, pancakes, and hot water cornbread.
- While forced labor fueled American agriculture, collard greens were one of the few crops enslaved Africans were allowed to grow and harvest for their own consumption.
And plantation owners gave them discarded animal parts to eat.
Ham hocks, hog maws, hog jowl, pig's feet, pig lips, chitlins.
To a plantation owner, that was actual trash.
- This is the perfect example of how unique circumstances informed our culinary creations.
African cooks in the big house, simmered the greens slowly with these throwaway pieces of meat, like ham hocks to soften the leaves, and transform the bitter taste.
- Cooks also used deep fat frying.
A technique they were familiar with back home, long before the advent of refrigeration, people used both smoking and frying as methods of food preservation or even flavorings.
Like how Nigerians use ground up, smoked crawfish in a variety of dishes.
- In this context, soul food is about nourishment, community, and survival.
We have to work together to even have the energy to even tend a garden.
Cooks who worked in the plantation house, brought leftovers to share with those working in the fields.
And in the unlikely event you come across something as luxurious as sugar or milk-- - (whistles) - Put that on your cornbread and enjoy desert.
- If you wanna get your ethno-botanist on, Yes, that's a thing.
We'll link more resources to information about gumbo, okra, and how rice in the United States is, (whispers) from Africa.
- [Hallease] Over time, thought our identities shifted from being African to being black, we still maintained a sense of identity through food.
Like Professor Fischler noted.
- Because slavery prevailed largely in the South, and your meal was likely cooked by black people, the food borne of those conditions became synonymous of the region.
- [Hallease] "The Virginia Housewife" by Mary Randolph is lauded as one of the most influential cookbooks in U.S. history.
And the first regional, American cookbook.
And while that's the case, it's also important to note, as later reprints of the book have, that her culinary prowess wasn't a solo effort.
As a very wealthy lady, her kitchen was staffed by enslaved cooks.
- There's okra recipes in there.
We'll link the book so you can read it for yourself.
And other 18th Century cookbooks directly referenced their cooks' expertise.
There's no doubt that culinary knowledge was transferred, shared, blended to make new things.
Albeit, under forced conditions.
- It's for that reason that some people distinguish soul food from southern food.
The latter pertains to the type of food, the former pertains to who cooked it.
Who made the potato salad.
- What is super important to know, because the term soul food wasn't even really a thing until the 1960's.
This is where food and identity become even more intertwined.
- [Hallease] First, enough time had passed after the Great Migration, to the North and out West, that black folks had multiple home towns.
Where they were born and raised, and where their grandparents were from.
- You were from Harlem, but your people are down in Georgia.
That's why it's called Down Home Cooking.
- Second, it's the 60's and 70's, ya dig?
Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud.
Food was a political statement.
You might be movin' on up, compared to your ancestors, but Jim Crow laws still exist, and the Civil Rights Movement is in full swing.
- During the 1960's, middle class black folks used their consumption of soul food to define themselves ethnically, to distance themselves from the values of the white middle class, and to align themselves with lower-class black people.
Some consider soul food to be part of the Black Arts Movement.
- The Movement's goal was to shatter middle-class decorum, or respectability.
Author Addison Gayle, called it the polluted mainstream of Americanism.
- But if there's one thing you learn from this show, it's that black culture, experiences, and schools of thought, aren't all the same.
While some use soul food as a point of pride, others like Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and Dick Gregory, entertainer, writer, and civil rights activist, sought to distance the black community from it's slave past by condemning the diet as unhealthy and unclean.
A practice of racial genocide.
- According to them, soul food was the garbage of white plantation owners.
And we deserve more than garbage.
- This is where things get testy.
Because you're not just criticizing someone's dinner, you're criticizing their identity, since the two are now linked.
How do you reconcile that a food made from struggle but made with love, can negatively impact your health?
And how do you have this conversation without tying someone's worth to your definition of health?
- It's a tall order.
Especially since the media influences and represents how we see ourselves consciously or subconsciously, wanting to distance ourselves from a history of forced labor, created an Uncle Darnell.
Who sees kale salads as frou-frou.
Farm-to-table sounds bougie.
But indigenous people and enslaved Africans, created farm-to-table.
- Clean eating or going vegan sounds like a pretentious luxury, But what about Rastafarians?
It's all brandy.
- [Hallease] Today, we still use soul food as a tool to define ourselves and belong to a group.
As we discuss in the Black Twitter episode, signifying via food is always in full swing online.
- [Evelyn] Sugar Grits Versus The Correct Ones.
- [Hallease] And you wash your chicken, right?
- And you can't put raisins in potato salad.
And the only mac and cheese we acknowledge is oven baked.
- Pumpkin Pie?
- Now, black folks are finding new ways to deliver the essence of soul food.
Love, comfort, and seasoning with different ingredient choices.
- [Hallease] Take The Slutty Vegan in Atlanta, Georgia owner, Pinky Cole, creates vegan burgers and sandwiches to show her community that it's not expensive or bland to have vegan comfort food.
Lindsey Williams, grandson of famed restaurateur, and Queen of Soul, Sylvia Woods, dedicated his career to continuing her legacy while being mindful of salt, sugar, and fat.
Neo Soul, isn't just an Erykah Badu Spotify playlist, it's a whole movement of redefining this type of food.
In fact, we took a 'lil drive to Houston, Texas and met Chef Jonny Rhodes, at his restaurant, Indigo.
- [Hallease] His definition of soul food blew our minds.
(oven whooshing) - Soul food is to me, the survival of agricultural oppression.
- What do black folks have access to now?
How can we reclaim some of that branding, and take ownership of things like farm-to-table?
- [Jonny] So, you have the uh, the summer gourds, which is gonna be zucchini, cooked in a squash, which is gonna be rolled with a pea and miso butter, and then gonna cook it over embers and smoke it on a skewed wood.
And then smother it in a bearnaise sauce.
Give you a gourd pickle from 2016, - Wow.
- [Jonny] Fresh sunflowers.
- Appreciate it.
- This is so good.
I am not even like, skilled enough to explain why it's good.
(laughs) But it's like smoky and kinda peanut-y, - Yeah, there you go.
- Um, and there's like a sweetness to it.
- And then that pickle cuts through all that-- - Oh yeah.
that acidity from that pickle cuts through all that marries it all together.
- [Jonny] So this dish is actually called, titled Cornrows and Convictions.
This is what we essentially talk about mass incarceration.
One of the easiest things to grow in modern day prisons, also known as modern day plantations, - Uh huh.
- Is gourds.
Of any variety.
They grow tons and tons of those and sell 'em to grocery stores.
- Instead of treating food as a personal choice tied to damaging diet culture, maybe we can think about it as a system.
- Where does our food come from?
How are those people treated?
Would we know how to feed ourselves if the system that stocked our grocery stores, suddenly stopped?
- I mean, I grew green onions on my windowsill once, and felt like a God.
- So this is part three of our third course which is titled, Institutionalize.
So for this dish you're lookin' at smoked oysters with a caramelized potato cream, and a fresh oregano on top.
- Fun fact: I've never had an oyster before.
Well hopefully this is-- - Okay.
- Your best first one.
- So do I just?
(yelps) It's like attached.
- [Jonny] Yep.
- [Jonny] It's a lot of flavor-- - That is good.
- [Jonny] It's a lot of flavor in just one.
Yep and eat all that sauce to grind with it.
Now, what was the inspiration for this?
You talked about like, different regions of the U.S.
So can you speak more about the inspiration?
- So this dish, we titled this dish as Institutionalize.
So one of the biggest misconceptions about the Antebellum era for African Americans is that slavery was strictly about labor.
But as Africans came over and other people came over, they were also architects, engineers, and all these different things.
So with them being all of this, you see them eating oysters, and then taking the oysters and mixing them with water and limestone to create stucco.
It's to create what they need the foundation for them to build buildings.
Some of these buildings still last to this day in New Orleans, Savannah, Georgia, and in Charleston, South Carolina.
- (whistles) And this oregano though?
- [Jonny] Yeah, all that oregano's a big pop for it.
- And what went into the potato cream sauce?
- So it's caramelized dairy, caramelized potatoes, and caramelized onions.
All together just to make that sauce.
- Who knew?
- It's almost like our version of surf-n-turf.
We see, chips and potatoes being a classic pairing.
This is no different than what potatoes and oysters just in our own variety.
- (claps) That's so good.
- [Jonny] Thank you, thank you.
- So then, the purpose of the meal is not just to eat, it's to have a conversation, right?
A lot of times, people come to the table they come to the table with a problem, which everybody knows.
The idea's to come to the table with solutions.
So that way we can stop having the same conversations over and over again.
- Mm hm.
- So that we can have conversations about how to fix things.
Not just what's wrong.
(dish clinks) - [Jonny] So this dish is titled Turtlenecks and do-rags.
This is where you're gonna have crab warmed up in milk and butter with crispy shallots on top.
- [Evelyn] I'm down.
- Turtlenecks and do-rags are one of the largest misconceptions that you have that you see happen in our community.
And sometimes, some of us make it out of poverty but sometimes when we make it out of poverty, we become very critical of our own community without providing any real relief or aid to it-- - Right, respectability, you know.
- Right all those things to it.
And when we do that, we often revert to capitalism as being our way to doing it.
So when we do that we, like I said, being very critical of our own people, while being super capitalist, while being very well- not providing anything for the community.
And that's often reverted to the crab in the bucket mentality.
Where they feel like they're trying to make it out of the bucket and all the crabs are trying to pull them back in since you're saying we're hating on them.
But this is what we're saying, you can wear your turtleneck and your do-rag at the same time.
- Mm hm.
- [Jonny] You don't have to decipher between the two, so this is why we gave you that crab warmed up in butter sauce to challenge that crab in the bucket mentality.
One of the biggest things about tasting menus, is that they're not filling, but we're still soul food, so we still want it to be filling and intellectually challenging as well.
- Soul food is community.
It's how we took care of each other.
My father didn't grow up with much in Virginia, but through career in the Air Force raised a middle class family in San Antonio, Texas.
He would often say, "true grit, mother wit, and don't forget."
While my mother, who had a similar upbringing, served these traditional dishes during holidays.
True grit, fortitude, determination.
Mother wit, common sense.
And don't forget.
Meaning literally don't forget who your people are and where they come from.
- (voice cracks) That is beautiful.
- [Hallease] Yeah.
All that being had said though, chitlins are a once a year food in my family because even though we're far removed from the circumstances that boards creation, is it even New Year's without fried chicken?
It's just another day.
Can I also make a mean gluten free fried chicken?
- That gives you a nice hearty crunch.
- Without gastrointestinal distress?
Yes I can.
- There are more options now.
Which isn't a bad thing.
So should we keep eating soul food?
- I say everything in moderation.
This food, for better or worse, is part of my personal identity as a black American, descended from slaves.
I take responsibility to make food choices based on what I've learned about my body.
And create alternative versions when necessary.
After all, food is meant to be shared.
And what good is it if my family and friends can't enjoy it without a slight alteration?
A nice almond milk cornbread.
- Or like, sodium free veggie broth for your greens.
- Yeah sure.
Okay all right.
- For me, as a child of Kenyan immigrants, I am but a culinary tourist when it comes to soul food.
And I gracefully bow out of all Black Twitter debates.
But it's interesting 'cause my family is from a place where it's cheaper to grow your own food.
- [Evelyn] Indoor supermarkets are the luxury and not even that good.
You have to grow something yourself in order to eat.
Or at least buy it from an open-air market.
It's farmer food in the purest sense of the word.
Stateside, I could be more mindful of where my food comes from, and learn how my access to food doesn't have to contribute to someone else's unethical treatment.
- Yeah, community responsibility.
What a concept.
- I can also do the work to unlearn all the lies we were taught about that food pyramid.
Grain got me out here sluggish, y'all.
- Soul food has evolved and will continue to do so as food culture access, education, and identity shift.
But we've proven that no matter what we eat, we always make it with love.
What are some of the traditional dishes your family eats?
And how have you updated them?
Let us know.
- Give this video a like.
Follow us on social media @sayitloudpbs and subscribe so you don't miss us next time.
- I'm super hungry.
- Me too.
- Yeah let's get food.
- [Hallease] Hey everyone, PBS Digital Studios wants to hear from you.
They do a survey every year that asks about what you're into.
Your favorite PBS shows, and things you'd like to see more of from PBS Digital Studios.
You even get to vote on potential new shows.
All of this helps them make more of the stuff you want to see.
The survey takes about ten minutes and you might even win a sweet t-shirt.
Link is in the description.
- (Evelyn laughs) Hold on.
Be a man.
- [Hallease] Perform some masculinity, girl.
(both laugh) (gentle chimes)