The Transatlantic Slave Trade took place during the 16th and 19th centuries. It was a practice that brought over about 10 million to 12 million Africans to the Americas in order to use their forced labor. Bringing Africans into the Americas came with not only human rights violations, forced labor, violence and racism; it also came with an integral shift in how Africans connected with their culture. Their languages, names, records of lineage and other identifiers were stripped from these Black Americans leaving them to build a new culture with a certain style of food being a marker of this culture- soul food.
“Soul food is the memory cuisine of the great and great great grandchildren of enslaved people,” said African American food historian and author of Afroculinara Michael Twitty.
Soul food is usually recognized as cuisine that had its roots in the south and finds use in flavors that are salty, savory, and often filled with meats, dairy, starch and other hearty ingredients. For as long as there has been an African American population in the states, soul food has been a cultural marker, but not one exempt from ridicule.
Soul food has long been synonymous with unhealthy eating and been linked to health problems that have happened within the African American community. According to State of Obesity special report on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Obesity, African American adults are nearly 1.5 times as likely to be obese compared with White adults. Also, African Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non Hispanic whites, according to the American Diabetes Association. These statistics are particularly meaningful in Philadelphia, a city where African Americans makeup 43.4 percent of the population, but a new movement threatens to shake all of that up.
“If you eat these foods in its natural state and limit it, you won’t have a problem. Eating chitlins, collard greens, or hot sauce ain’t gonna kill you. And what’s hurting us is that we are eating gluten and stuff, for 7,000 years we [African people] weren’t a gluten eating people and then we assimilated to that,” said Twitty.
In fact, having access to westernized diets and processed foods is what introduced this unhealthy food era, according to Twitty. Vegan soul food has the potential to dramatically change a person’s health.
Vegan soul food is a subset of soul food that replaces the meat and dairy bases of the southern dishes with ingredients like jackfruit (meat substitute) to make plant based dishes. People often are skeptical of the cultural legitimacy of vegan soul food, but advocates of the movement and black vegans in Philadelphia reject that notion. According to Twitty, vegan soul food isn’t’ an infringement upon African American culture.
“People try to make it into, ‘Oh where’s the pork,’ but you don’t need all of that. You can do whatever you want to do.” said Twitty.
Twitty mentioned that Soul Food is based off one’s identity. What an African American considers soul food is dependent on their hometown, how they were raised, and the cuisine memories they have of their family. Some may prefer Mac and Cheese over red beans and rice. It all depends on how an African American Identifies with themselves.
The practice of amending these recipes in theory gives African Americans who may have health issues or trying to prevent them.
“Well I think it gives them a chance to enjoy food and eat the way they normally eat without changing their patterns or their taste or their flavor too much,” said owner of Vegan Commissary Steven Laurence, “And have a chance to be healthier and process food better.”
Due to its cultural connectivity and health benefits, vegan soul food has probable cause to rise among not only the African American community, but all people who enjoy soul foods.