Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Cooking Up Soul Food

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Cooking Up Soul Food

Article excerpt

"The Origins of Soul Food in Black Urban Identity: Chicago, 1915-1947" by Tracy N. Poe, in American Studies International (Feb. 1999), George Washington Univ., Washington, D.C. 20052.

Soul food may be a mouthwatering emblem of African American identity, but not so long ago rib joints and chicken shacks were points of controversy among black Americans.

When African Americans journeyed northward in the Great Migration that began during World War I, they brought their rural southern culinary tradition with them, writes Poe, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University in the history of American civilization. But their "backward" ways seemed to threaten the hard-won respectability of the middle-class blacks already established in Chicago and other northern cities.

"With their sidewalk barbecue pits, 'chicken shacks,' and public consumption of watermelon," says Poe, "an ugly stereotype of Southern migrants" as crude, unclean, and backward folk "soon developed, no less among the black middle class than among white Chicagoans." The migrants, however, "could not understand what the problem was" with their traditional southern food.

Southern cuisine (eaten by both whites and blacks) was largely the creation of slave cooks, using foods and preparations of Africa, Europe, and early America, Poe says. …

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