Soul Food: A nation of appropriation

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DALLAS – Soul Food. Dictionary definition: traditional Southern African-American food. But Soul Food is deeper than five words; we're talking hundreds of years deep.

So much so, Adrian Miller -- known as the Soul Food Scholar -- wrote a book about its history.

"Soul food is one of the earliest fusion cuisines in the Americas,” Miller told NewsFix.

And it's most known for being a staple in the black household and community.

"When you grew up off of it, it was your lunch dinner and breakfast,” former NBA player Anthony "Spud" Webb said.

"Soul food is one of the few connections to slavery that we'll ever have and enjoy,” Fredrick Johnson said. “That and gospel singing."

Yet today, especially in South, it seems restaurants – whether you label them as Soul Food, comfort food, or southern cuisine – are popping up left and right. And the majority of them are not black owned and rarely have black chefs. Which raises the question: When did the appropriation of Soul Food become a thing?

"Other ethnic backgrounds are capitalizing on it because they may learn from an African American how to prepare the food and say, 'Hey, we can do this, open up a business,'” Mary Davis of Ms. Mary’s Southern Kitchen told NewsFix. “And that's what they do."

"There's just so many missing pieces that I think a lot of restaurants kind of fail on, because they're looking at the mass market versus just getting the product right,” Chef Tiffany Derry said. "Usually when you have soul food, it has cooked for hours, or it has this incredible flavor, incredible aroma. When a biscuit is made, you can't walk through that door and not smell that biscuit."

Now, a lot of different components go into Soul Food appropriation, like the lack of black chefs preparing it.

"They shy away from it, because they're trying to show you their skill set of what they learned in school, not realizing that that basic background is the foundation of really knowing how to be a great chef,” Davis said.

"I'll be the first to tell you I was one of those people that you're talking about,” Derry said. "I felt like that we ate at home, I never saw it in restaurants, so In honesty I felt like it wasn't as good or people wouldn't buy it."

Then there's the issue of deeming soul food as unhealthy.

"That's not true," Derry said. “I don't think soul food is unhealthy."

"Despite it's reputation, a lot of soul food is healthy,” Miller told NewsFix. “For instance, kale. A ton of people are eating kale now. And I tell those people, 'Welcome to the party, because we've been eating it for 300 years.'"

"Soul food is not just smothered meats and fried chicken,” Derry said. "I always had tons of vegetables on my table.There are many things that we eat as soul food, but mainstream has made it where hey, it has to be these things because that's all they know."

So now the question becomes: How do we save Soul Food?

"I think it's going to be about educating the public, and even our own people, that we need to keep the heritage and the traditions of our food alive," Davis said. "Get in that mindset that family has to get back to the table."