For the last four years, I’ve been able to travel throughout the country, meeting people and hearing their personal stories, and sharing my own. I’ve witnessed the history of artisan food in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, the artistic sensibility of Austin restauranteurs, and the budding food scene in Oakland, California. I’ve met with chefs, readers, fans, and cooks who all celebrate food and culture in their own ways, and want to share what they’re doing.
What’s become clear is that food is a lifeblood to all communities, and it’s been how I’ve been able to connect with everyone across cultures. Making and enjoying food is practicing our culture with family and friends, but it’s communicating it with everyone . Like great music, great food doesn’t have barriers between people.
We as a community are redefining soul food, and it’s evident in the attention to detail. Chefs and home cooks care about ingredients–that’s why we’re seeing community gardens, ingredients from local farmers, and gourmet artisan products replacing artificial processed store items in our pantries.
We’re paying attention to flavors too, and changing them up. From pickling our own vegetables to experimenting with new spice blends, we’re owning our food and taking pride in it, because pride in community, pride in food, and pride in culture are one and the same. The food I make has grown out of cooking Swedish cuisine with my grandmother, to a cuisine that layers those flavors with African and American influences.
I watched Byron Hurt’s documentary Soul Food Junkies about his father’s obesity, and ‘soul food obsession.’ One of many takeaways from the film is the role of soul food. As he shows, fried chicken and collard greens aren’t just delicious, but they represent family and friends coming together to cook. It’s always been about home-made, personal cooking that builds community, but its bad rap has come from an association with fast food, piled-on fats and salt, and the rise of obesity.
Let’s take soul food back to its best meaning, which is food that has meaning to our souls. It’s not fast, but slow, and not bought, but made, and influenced by our families, neighborhoods, and styles.
This is the beginning of a series in which we will ask the same questions of people with different backgrounds and stories: What’s your Soul Food Remix? I’m talking about traditional foods and recipes that you grew up with, interpreted by you. How do you make your mother’s meatloaf different? What spices to add to your burger to make it your own? Maybe your Mac-N-Cheese doesn’t have all the fat but still maintains plenty of taste…what’s your trick?
I begin this topic by asking you to send me Tweets and Facebook posts using #SoulFoodRemix or commenting on this article below. I want to start a dialogue that we can continue to explore and I look forward to hearing from you.
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