Soul Food Essay

Griffin Hooper English IA 30 October 2008 Soul Food A ritual done over a specific length of time can become tradition, rooting itself into one’s culture and lifestyle. George Gmelch in the essay “Baseball Magic” describes rituals as being irrational and unemotional behaviors linked to an outcome. He finds when a baseball player has a good performance his rituals grow and are continued. Gmelch’s findings reflect that rituals fulfill one’s need for control over one’s environment. Similar to Gmelch, I have found that within my family the ritual of ooking soul food every Sunday has become a means of keeping my family together.

By consistently performing this ritual a sense of control is established over the continual unity within my family. Unity is important because it is the basic structure of family, and is something that was not always a part of African American culture. Dating back to slavery, families were often divided in the slave trade and were never to be seen again. This division has had long-term effects on African American families to this day, where often it is seen that a father or mother is lacking and hildren are raised by extended family.

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My family came to California from the East Coast over 30 years ago, thus keeping the ritual of Sunday dinner alive has been a crucial factor in maintaining our unity as a family. My family practices the ritual of having a large soul food dinner every Sunday at my Aunt Louise’s house. On October 26, 2008 1 arrived at my Aunt Louise’s house in Los Angeles, California. Just before entering the house I was greeted by the smell of baked foods. As I walked into my aunt’s cozy medium sized home, I immediately saw he dining room table fully set for the guests.

The mahogany table was covered with a cream and gold tasseled table cloth, cream plates rimmed with gold sat on the table near silver goblets with gold rims, and champagne flutes and silver utensils matched with gold handles. This elaborate table setting directly reflects the teachings passed down within my family of having wealth within one’s spirit. Gmelch states that routines are “comforting; they bring order into a world in which players have little control” (303).

Just as baseball players need routines to organize their lives, y family is routinely reminded every Sunday that Just because we don’t have money it doesn’t mean our minds should be impoverished. In the areas where control is lacking, such as finance, our family finds comfort from this reminder representing the years and special occasions celebrated. After exiting the dining room I entered the kitchen where I saw a grey pot of cabbage with a large piece of ham inside, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and baked chicken smothered in gravy.

The hot soul food on the stove indicated dinner was prepared and all the elements of Sunday dinner at my Aunt Louise’s house began to come together. I watched as my family members made their way to the food, dinner plates in hand. Within minutes everyone settled in at the dining room table. My dad began to tell everyone to hold hands and bow for prayer as he prayed for blessing over the food, which coincides with George Gmelch’s finding of how Latin American’s make the sign of the cross or bless themselves before every bat (304).

As a Christian family the importance that has been placed upon giving thanks to the one who provided us with our meal is an aspect of the ritual implemented to purify the food we are eating. While the family ate, conversation was sparked and the “soul” food began to work its magic. The food we ate made everyone comfortable, warm and more open to each other. The known aspect of how this food affects us draws upon what Gmelch states about a fielder having “complete control over the outcome of his performance” and by cooking soul food a sense of control is established (305).

Everyone knows my Aunt Louise is a great cook, and when she cooks our soul food favorites we can’t help but be drawn to her house for her cooking. The soul food we eat establishes our control s a unified family every Sunday. What is within this food, analyzed by Professor Fredrick Douglas Opie, is the yolk that continues to bring African American families together. Soul food and Sunday dinners have been a staple throughout African American families. Known for bringing families together for food and great conversation, this tradition roots itself in times as early as slavery.

In an interview by journalist Farai Chideya of the National Public Radio (NPR), author and Professor Fredrick Douglas Opie examines the history of soul food. His book Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America is an educational Journey outlining where “soul” food began and how it became important to African American culture. He shows that the term “soul” as a prerequisite for the type of food commonly made by African American’s, stemmed from the 60s, an era of cultural empowerment.

This food with “soul” as Professor Opie defines, is the main component of dinners which unite my family every Sunday evening. Within this traditional food cooked every Sunday our stomach’s are not the only aspect of us being fed, but our “souls” are being filled nder the unity of food. My Aunt Louise is the reason the ritual of soul food being cooked on Sunday continues throughout our family. Historically the institution of slavery is where traditional African American foods were originally cooked, specifically out of “what the master rationed” (Opie).

Usually when elaborate meals were cooked they were done sparingly and with whatever slaves could get their hands on. As Professor Douglas Opie draws upon, common soul food cooking in slavery rooted out of need, specifically for better tasting food. Similarly within my family, the need to keep veryone unified is the reason my Aunt continues the ritual of cooking soul food every Sunday. My Aunt Louise originally moved to California over 30 years ago with her sister, my grandmother. When she first moved to California with her sister, they other often was impossible.

As she stated, the significance of her dinners every Sunday have been for “family gathering, so everyone can come together, enjoy conversation, catch up on their week… something that can’t be done everyday’ (Robinson). A need to keep the family strong is why great soul food is cooked by her every Sunday. Originally my Aunt’s mother always cooked soul food dinners. Her mother and grandmother made sure that Sunday was specifically set aside “because that was an important day in our house that has been passed down from generation to generation” (Robinson).

She was taught to cook at 1 1 years old, and from there participated in helping her mother cook elaborate meals on this special day of the week. The purpose for cooking soul food on Sunday as Professor Douglas Opie recalls, is because “certain foods weren’t always readily available to African Americans, so Sunday was set aside to cook them (Opie). As a generational ritual among our African American culture, this day has held strong as a major characteristic of the ritual of cooking soul food by my Aunt Louise.

What traditional soul food ritualistically cooked in our family every Sunday has done is bring us together. Foods such as fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and black eyed peas and gra’. y are known to bring comfort to an individual. Historically throughout slavery such staple foods gave a type of release to the stresses and depression occurred in that time. For my family, eating soul food when we are ogether comforts us and allows us to be more laid back and this in turn makes bonding every Sunday easier.

Without this soul food, Sunday dinners could not be effective in the glue that keeps our family strong. Soul food is so closely aligned in the fabric of African American people and our culture that it’s almost impossible to get us to stop eating it (Opie). The soul food my family eats is a meaningful ritual and tradition because of its cultural roots and mysterious “feel good” qualities, soul food eaten in my family is a ritual of meaning which has become tradition. Within my amily the tradition of having a large soul food dinner at my Aunt Louise’s house occurs every Sunday.

Since I was a child, I remember going to her house, enjoying great food and socializing with members of my family. Gmelch in writing “Baseball Magic” discusses how rituals can play a large role in one’s life, as a means of control over a specific outcome. Overtime the ritual of soul food cooked every Sunday for dinner has become the incentive keeping unity within my family strong. The strength of family, especially to my own, reaches as far back into slavery where many families ere broken apart.

Opie in his interview by Farai Chideya in regards to his book Hog & Hominy: Soul food from Africa to America analysis what soul food is and how it became to be important in African American culture. Originating out of a simple need for better tasting food, traditional foods cooked by slaves were later titled “soul food” during the Black Power Movement of the 60s. This soul food, passed down from generations is today what my family enjoys during time of bonding and relationship. In all, from what I have learned through observations and interview regarding this itual, I will never look at my familys Sunday dinners the same.

As a ritual of true meaning, soul food dinner on Sunday is not only good food but a celebration of my family. Chideya, Farai. “A Soul Food Journey from Africa to America”. National Public Radio. 20 October 2008. 28 October 2008. http://’. nm. n. nl. npr. org/te m p lates/story/story. p h &f=1032 Gmelch, George. “Baseball Magic”. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. Ed. Pamela Moro, James Myers, and Arthur Lehmann. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. 16-19 Robinson, Louise. Personal interview. 26 October 2008.


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