On October 19th at 12:30 pm, The Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture and Learning hosted an event entitled “Why We Call It Soul Food” in the James L. Bolden Campus Union Ballroom at Alcorn State University (ASU).
Dr. Brinda Willis, who is a writer for the Jackson Advocate Newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, was the guest speaker for the evening. She described how Soul Food is very prominent in African American culture and its deep-rooted history can be found throughout the world. Dr. Willis grew up on a farm in the hills of Attala County, Mississippi, as an identical twin in a family of 16 children. She is a passionate Blues’ enthusiast, which is how she ended up marrying her husband, Blues’ artist Chick Willis. She has lived in Germany and Holland and has spread her knowledge of African-American cuisine to those unfamiliar with Soul Food.
During the event, Dr. Willis explained how Soul Food got its start when African slaves were being taken from their ancestral land and brought to the United States. She explained how African Americans are indigenous people and Soul Food is a part of American culture due to slavery. Foods such as okra were stuffed in slaves’ hair and were brought overseas while potatoes also played a vital role in survival as they could be easily stored and harvested. During slavery, they were the last to eat and were often served leftovers, so most had to make do with what they were given. Ham hocks, pig ear sandwiches, and chitterlings (pig intestines) were created due to slavery. Slaves had to consume what others did not in order to survive. Dr. Willis also explained, that due to slavery, many African Americans prefer their food well-done because the leftover meat that was still cooking at the end of the meal was well-done and was given to slaves, therefore, continuing a generational tradition.
During Dr. Willis’ presentation she also commented on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’. The ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ was a plethora of performance venues that were safe environments between New Orleans and Chicago for African-American musicians and entertainers to perform during Jim Crow.
The train ride to reach these safe havens gave birth to numerous African American performers who were seeking jobs and other opportunities up North. However, during the journey, blacks were not allowed to eat in the dining box car and had to eat whatever food that they had brought with them. Foods, such as okra, squash, beets, cord, livers, cheese, and crackers were brought along for the ride. From their kitchens, club owners offered chitlins and other Soul Food delicacies, therefore, birthing the term ‘The Chitlin’ Circuit’.
Dr. Willis closed the event with a question and answer session amongst the attendees. You can contact Dr. Willis via her web page at www.brindafullerwillis.com.