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Soul food is a type of cuisine that is associated with African-American culture in the southern United States. Recipes for chicken fried steak, cracklins, hoghead cheese, chitterlings, Hoppin’ John, and other dishes were first created by slaves who needed to cook hearty and substantial meals to enjoy after a long day of strenuous physical labor. After President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, this type of cuisine became an inexpensive way for the newly freed slaves to feed their families as they struggled to build a new life.
Soul food recipes were typically a reflection of the cook’s creativity, since food was often in short supply and cooks were forced to make do with the limited ingredients they had available. Common meats used in this type of southern cooking include ham hocks, chicken livers, chicken gizzards, fried chicken, fried fish, ribs, and shrimp. Black eyed peas, cabbage, lima beans, green beans, butter beans, and sweet potatoes are the most common vegetables in soul food dishes. Cornbread, hoecakes, and Johnny cakes are the breads most typically served with this type of southern cuisine.
Since slaves were often forbidden to learn how to read or write, recipes were passed down orally for several generations. There were no widely distributed soul food cookbooks until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Civil Rights Movement sparked a renewed interest in African-American culture. Around this time, black-owned soul food restaurants began to appear in New Orleans, Birmingham, and other cities with large African-American populations. These dishes also became a large part of the festivities associated with Juneteenth, a celebration of African-American culture and the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Today, however, this food is widely criticized as being unhealthy. In fact, many researchers blame southern cuisine for the higher incidences of obesity in the African-American population. According to the American Obesity Association, African-Americans are 9% more likely to suffer from obesity than whites and 1.8% more likely to suffer from obesity than Hispanics.
In response to this criticism, some cooks have begun preparing traditional African-American cuisine using more modern cooking methods. Frying foods in canola oil is a great way to cut fat and calories from many soul food recipes. Using smoked turkey instead of pork, substituting low fat dairy products for whole milk, or replacing salt with herbs and spices can also help make your favorite dishes part of a well-balanced diet.