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It Is Food That African Americans Began To Create A Long Time Ago To Eat With Dignity As Enslaved People

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Cooking a fried supper as a benefit picnic church supper in Bardstown, Kentucky, in August of 1940. VOA

You can thank enslaved Africans for one of America’s most iconic drinks: Coca-Cola.

“The base ingredient in Coca-Cola is the kola nut that’s indigenous to Africa,” says Frederick Opie, professor of history and foodways at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the author of several books, including “Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America.”

Since the 17th century, when Africans were forced into slavery in the New World, they and their descendants have had a profound impact on what Americans grow and eat. Watermelon, okra, yams, black-eyed peas and some peppers are all indigenous to Africa.

“If you know what people eat, you can find out where they’re from,” Opie says. “There are certain things that we crave. Many African Americans love spicy food. That’s because we’re from the South. But also, we come originally from a culture, from a hot tropical climate, and spicy foods create a gastrointestinal sweating that causes you to cool yourself. So, that’s why so many African Americans love spicy food.”

Hercules, George Washington's head cook in the 1780s, escaped while in Philadelphia with the president, and was later freed under the terms of Washington's will.
Hercules, George Washington’s head cook in the 1780s, escaped while in Philadelphia with the president, and was later freed under the terms of Washington’s will. VOA

There was a practical reason indigenous African foods made it to the New World.

“When Africans were put on slave ships,” Opie says, “the reality of trying to keep your cargo alive and making money off them meant that you found out what this group of people ate, and you made sure that they were fed that and given that when they first arrived in the Americas.”

Fruits and vegetables brought from Africa flourished in America in large part because enslaved Africans planted their own gardens to supplement the meager rations provided by their captors.

A recreated slave garden at Smithfield Plantation in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Historic Smithfield Plantation)
A recreated slave garden at Smithfield Plantation in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Historic Smithfield Plantation) VOA

These plants eventually made their way from gardens of the enslaved to those of some of the wealthiest and most prominent people in the country, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose gardens were planted with heirloom seeds from Africa.

Enslaved African chefs left their mark on certain cooking methods, while also developing recipes that are now staples in the American diet, particularly in the American South.

“Dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot, the method of cooking greens — Hoppin’ John (a dish made with greens and pork),” Kelley Deetz, director of programming at Stratford Hall, told VOA via email.

Stratford Hall is the birthplace and family home of Robert E. Lee, general of the South’s Confederate Army during the Civil War.

The kitchen building on the Chicora Wood Plantation in Georgetown County, South Carolina.
The kitchen building on the Chicora Wood Plantation in Georgetown County, South Carolina. VOA

“The method of deep frying of fish or barbecuing meats were all documented in West Africa before the transatlantic slave trade,” says Deetz, who is also the author of “Bound to the Fire,” which explores how Virginia’s enslaved cooks helped invent American cuisine. “These dishes and ingredients were essential to the formation of Southern, and eventually American, food.”

Many of these foods with roots in African American culture eventually came to be known as “soul food.”

“Soul food is just a term that was coined during the Black Power movement of mid-to-late 1960s as a way of identifying a food that represented the heritage of African Americans,” Opie says. “But also, through the years, it is food that African Americans began to create a long time ago to eat with dignity as enslaved people in (the) diaspora.”

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For more than 200 years, Southern plantation owners relied on enslaved Africans and their descendants to work in their fields and houses, to help raise their children, and to provide food and drink. But the contributions African Americans have made to American cuisine have not been well-documented until more recently.

Deetz says that’s because there’s been a longstanding and intentional misrepresentation of the origins of southern cuisine.

“The skilled and talented black chef has been written out of our nation’s history,” she says. “This negligence gives way to racist narratives that support white supremacist ideology that enslaved Africans and African Americans brought little but their labor to this nation, and that the culture from their ancestral land has not made a positive impact on the United States. … It was both their labor and their talent that shaped American cuisine.” (VOA)

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When You Engage in ‘Hedonic Consumption’? Read Here To Find Out

"Emotional consumption is usually food because it's easily accessible and available to most people,"

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Some research suggests "hedonic consumption" doesn't help because it could lead to a vicious cycle of eating unhealthily and its associated guilt factors. Pixabay

If you start binging on fast food, savour dark chocolates or can’t resist that ice cream, this may be because of an emotional event like a recent break-up as there is science behind this behaviour, says a study.

Reacting to emotional events like break-ups, tends to involve reaching for the nearest unhealthy snack which is called “hedonic consumption”, said Nitika Garg, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) at Sydney Business School.

“When you engage in ‘hedonic consumption’, you always have some kind of emotion attached to it,” she added.

When you’re sad, you tend to go for overconsumption – hedonic consumption – as therapy.

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“We tend to focus on sadness and what it does to consumption but there’s also this unexpected good effect of happiness,” Garg suggested. Pixabay

“Be it ice cream or a luxury handbag, there are always emotions attached,” Garg said.

Research shows when people are made aware of emotion effects, they go away.

“One of the mechanisms to curbing hedonic consumption is making people aware of the behaviour by providing nutritional information,” Garg noted.

On the flip side, experiencing happiness actually curbs the consumption of unhealthy food products.

“Happiness is shown to increase the consumption of products people believe to be healthy,” said the professor.

In her research, the UNSW academic offered both M&M chocolates and sweet dried fruit sultanas to happy and sad people.

She found that happy people don’t eat M&Ms but they do eat sultanas a lot more.

“We tend to focus on sadness and what it does to consumption but there’s also this unexpected good effect of happiness,” Garg suggested.

sadness
When you’re sad, you tend to go for overconsumption – hedonic consumption – as therapy. Pixabay

Some research suggests “hedonic consumption” doesn’t help because it could lead to a vicious cycle of eating unhealthily and its associated guilt factors.

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“Emotional consumption is usually food because it’s easily accessible and available to most people,” said Garg who received a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad.

“People go for what seems easiest to them in terms of familiarity and in terms of accessibility for ‘hedonic consumption’,” the professor added. (IANS)