One aspect that really stood out to me in Jessica Harris’ In Sorrow’s Kitchen was something I never took the time to think about:  The birth of a food culture from slavery.  While I have been taught and lectured about the day to day life and awful conditions of slaves in the antebellum South, I had never put much thought into the food eaten by slaves, always having assumed that it was simply what they were provided, or ‘allowed’ to eat by their owners.  I was intrigued listening to Harris describing the foods hunted and gathered by many slaves, which in addition to what they were provided included among many things opossum, catfish, garlic and chives.  The action of hunting and gathering specific foods continued to enforce how essential a culture of food is to the existence of any people.

It just struck me that even though they were pulled from their native land, into an area they likely knew little about, and that they were given very little free time outside of their work, the slaves were able to not only begin to identify the items worthy of hunting, gathering and eating in the wild, but also go about acquiring them and finding ways to cook them that are still prevalent in African American culture.  The existence of such a food culture, that consists of meats and greens caught and gathered by slaves, shows how basic, necessary and important food culture is.  It’s just very interesting to see that even though whites tried to restrict so many freedoms and cultural aspects, slaves still created a culture of food that was good enough and important enough to have trickled down through the generations.

In addition, the few slaves that were given free time enforced the importance of food culture by devoting even more time to raising plants, harvesting them and even eventually selling them back to the land owners.  In these situations, Harris points out that slaves often grew plants like Okra and Watermelon, two deeply southern food items that are still very prevalent in traditional dishes.  It is just fascinating to me to see that even when a community of people is oppressed and restricted, a culture of food that is still represented and enjoyed today can be created.  It shows just how important a culture of food is to any population of people, and just how smart and resilient the slaves were during early America.

1 Comment

  1. I too fell under the impression that the slaves did not have a food culture but were fed what they were provided. Looking back after reading these articles it seems such a silly thing to have believed. While there was a difference in food due to an eco-social divide, there was still a unique culture developing within the slave community. While not provided with many resources, they were still able to develop a unique culture which has since influenced the “American” diet.

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