A Brief Exploration into the Food of the African Diaspora
Apollo Covington, Taylor Dillion, Cheyenne Griffin
Food plays much more than a life-sustaining role in our lives. It brings people together and connects and transcends individuals, languages, and cultures. In our presentation, we wished to highlight the unique way food intertwines the cultures of people in the African diaspora. We focused on how the role, use and choice of food has surpassed a biological necessity. Food weaves itself into our lives from evolving religious practices around the world to how it has found new meaning from an Afro-latinx perspective, and lastly, African culinary influences on the history of America as well as recipes throughout the African diaspora.
How does food relate to African descended peoples and religion?
Reflect on your religious practices and the role food plays, literally and symbolically. Cultures have used it to honor their ancestors. Food is also used by some as an offering to the divine to receive their blessing. In that case, it bridges the gap between mortal life and the afterlife and celebrates their interconnection. Specifically, our presentation highlighted how food has historically come to be used and define cultures in the diaspora, based on the diaspora’s complex history of migration.
The transatlantic slave trade cruelly displaced a great number ethnic groups from West African to the Americas. They brought with them religious traditions. Some of the enslaved converted to religions such as Christianity or Islam, however, there are groups that either kept faithful to their indigenous practices or fused aspects of these religions to their own. For example, Cuban Santeria originates from the Yoruba people in West Africa. Some common foods found in this region and used in Santeria are black beans and rice, and yucca. Some Senegalese believe in Animism- that everything (animals, rocks, plants, weather, etc.) has a soul and should be treated with respect. Types of food that link to this concept are rice, fish, and stewed beef with spicy sauce. Heavily Christianized Jamaica still include followers of Obeah/Kumina. This belief originated from the West African Ibo ethnic group. The groups who follow these traditional or hybridized religions are sometimes ostracized, largely ignored or tolerated. In addition to this, in some histories such as Jamaican Kumina, legal punishment was the outcome for their devotion. In these examples and others, followers will incorporate the food of their culture into their practices, and certain foods will be chosen to appeal to certain spirits or divinities.
Soul food and African American food culture
Maintaining a connection to Africa and Africanist identities, African-American food practices have been labeled “soul food”. It indexes a sense of well-being and wellness in African American culture. The name itself stems from the 1960’s. The civil rights movement and the black nationalist movement supported the term “soul food” coined by civil rights activist Amiri Baraka by correlating it with self-proclaimed names such as “soul sister” and “soul music”. Soul food combines all the food recipes that African Americans have used for generations. With a Southern American and African influence in the choices of ingredient, meat, fish , poultry, grain, vegetables, and cooking methods, Soul food shows the ingenious ways that enslaved Africans made do with the scraps they were given. Depending on where African descendants are located throughout the diaspora, recipes change, but base ingredients used among these groups, share great commonalities. Some foods that have been passed down from West Africa food culture are collard greens, black-eyed peas, beans, yams, okra, watermelon, African cornmeal/mush, stews, yucca, and goat meat.
Food, as it has traveled throughout the words, hands and worlds of those who nourish others, has been altered, redone and remixed to suit those who come to enjoy the meal before them. Mothers cut up and overcook pasta so young ones can eat; alcoholic beverages are additions that give food more complex undertones to consumers. But all cooked food indicate one thing: love of/for the community. And there is no better way to show that love than by strengthening it through nourishment. In my family, there is an amalgamation of origins making for an afro-latinx fusion, taking aspects of my two cultures and combining them when I cook to make something special. I am an Afro-Latino and as a consequence, many of the dishes I make include spices or foods from both sides of my culture and ethnic heritage. However, both of my cultures share the same ingredients, oils, and roots. From arroz con gandules to fried okra, oils are used in high quantities to not only make a dish rich but also healthy. Recent research (or a quick internet stroll on reputable sites) has shown that proper use of oils is far more beneficial than any kind of diet fad. Oils are filling and warming as well as a good way to enhance a meal’s flavor. Roots also play an important role. Think about the importance of sweet potato and its desserts in ceremonial gatherings throughout the diaspora. Not only are oils and roots used world wide but they also celebrate our connection to the earth and the ground. They are our legacy from a home far from here. We consume them soulfully, connecting us back to our home, our roots.