In the fifth chapter of High on the Hog, “In Sorrow’s Kitchen”, Jessica Harris writes about the influence of African slaves on the South. This influence primarily occurs in the form of Southern food, and to an equal extent (but not equal focus), Southern behavior and customs. Harris first recounts her visit to the South and tours of old plantations, before diving into the focal point of the chapter – Southern slavery. Here she first lays out the state of slavery in the South, as well as some clarifications regarding how slavery varied across different sections of the South. She then explores the links between slaves and their food. In her discourse on African slaves and food, Harris begins by giving the reader a picture of how slaves were fed. Such a picture yields on one hand a stark contrast, and on the other, quite a similar comparison, to how early settlers fed themselves. Certainly some of the information within the text consisted of fact that I was not aware of (such as some slaves hunting and preparing their own food after dark).

The most interesting parts of the chapter are those that speak to the slaves’ influence through cooking. In examining eating in early America, as is the case with other things, it is easy to separate the experiences of free, white Americans from those of enslaved blacks. What is striking about the information in this chapter, however, is how linked they are. Where some early Americans’ eating habits developed from a need to live off of the land, or to adopt certain practices from Native Americans, others’ came from the cooking done by African slaves. Among the most fascinating facts are those regarding several cookbooks that serve as definitive American cookbooks with definitive early American foods, specifically that many of the dishes in these books are African-based in nature.

Arguably the most recognizable influence of African slaves, if Harris is to be believed, is that on definitive Southern behavior and manners. Everyone knows about Southern slavery, but everyone (I believe) also knows of the concept of Southern hospitality and Southern manners. I’m not sure if anyone would make the connection between this typically-Southern characteristic and the African slave, or between this and food. It has been said by some that African slaves were integral to the building up of early American infrastructure – the nation itself. Certainly, they were also integral to the development of American, particularly Southern, behavior and food.

2 Comments

  1. Going along with what Andrew’s said, when I first came to Tech, I was very surprised by the Southern hospitality but I didn’t realize that it came from the slaves. I feel like a lot of people are unaware of the origins of Southern hospitality and now we see it as more of a “oh if he’s doing it, I should too” type of thing. That’s not to say that this mentality is incorrect, it’s just interesting to see how this hospitality originated and makes me wonder what else we’ve taken for granted from these slaves.

  2. I was also unaware previously of the origins of Southern hospitality. I feel like in the modern day, more people are aware of the food influence of Southern slavery, yet that’s about as far as their knowledge goes. This connection between behavior and slavery is addressed far less than one would think, but is perhaps avoided due to the potential clash of cultural understanding between what is perceived as purely Southern and what is actually African in origin.

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