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Soul Food: An Original American Art Form

Food is associated with one of the basic needs of a person, so many people do not pay specific or any attention to the matter. However, food has always been an important part of people’s lives, and one of the mirrors reflects some national, cultural, and regional peculiarities. There is a famous saying that people are what they eat. It is possible to paraphrase this proverb or rather put it upside down: food is what people are. It is also possible to note that food is an art form that can tell a lot about a cultural group. This paper deals with soul food as a form of American culture.

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First, it is important to draw the parallel between cuisine and art, as some may say that these are completely different concepts. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an art form is “an unconventional form or medium in which impulses regarded as artistic may be expressed” (Merriam-Webster, 2020). There can be no denying that every dish can be seen as an artistic impulse as cooks create their masterpieces that are pleasant to look at and eat, and consuming art acquires a literal meaning. So, many dishes can be seen as masterpieces, so cuisine can also be called an art form.

Soul food is one of the illustrations of this case as people can call this cuisine an American art form. Soul food originated from the foods African slaves and Native people consumed during the colonial era in the southern region of North America (Bock, 2017). The term appeared in the 1960s as people’s response to their cultural roots. Civil Rights Movement activists often had to travel across the country, so they experienced strong emotions whenever they had the food they had in their childhood in distant places. These individuals’ homesickness could be soothed by a set of dishes that were called soul food. The primary ingredient of this cuisine may seem simple as they include cornbread, pork (including barbecued ribs), fried catfish, cooked greens, and sweet potato. However, soul food is somewhat more than a set of these basic ingredients.

African Americans made it a part of their life and a component of their culture. Ham hocks and hog jowl, black-eyed peas and grifts, cornbread and hoecake, and, of course, sweet potato pies. All this sounds familiar and dear to any southerner or a person who spent at least several years in that region. Of course, cooks create really beautiful dishes that can be called a piece of art. There have been numerous examples when a chef offered a real masterpiece, and it seemed a crime to it the dish. However, even an ordinary plate with cornbread is a part of American art. Soul food can be compared with a jazz improvisation where people create something based on their cultural background, their mood, and their state at that very moment. When cooking and even eating soul food, southern people explore their roots and tell a story of the entire nation.

On balance, it is possible to note that soul food developed during centuries and was influenced by historical and social factors. The term coined in the middle of the twentieth century reflects the essence of this cuisine and makes it clear that soul food is something else as well. Soul food is an American art form as people manage to bring to life the emotions, aspirations, and sorrows of thousands of souls who lived in colonial America.


Bock, S. (2017). “I know you got soul”: Traditionalizing a contested cuisine. In M. O. Jones & L. Long (Eds.), Comfort food: Meanings and memories (pp. 163-181). University Press of Mississippi.

Merriam-Webster. (2020). Art form. In Merriam Webster’s dictionary. Web.

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