African-American food, sometimes called soul food, combines the food preferences and cooking methods of the African slaves with the available ingredients and available fuel found in the United States. Slow cooking with lots of vegetables and meats, eating lots of greens, combining fruits and meats in main dishes, and deep-frying meats and vegetables were cooking traditions brought to the United States.
At the time, their foods, which contained too much fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt, did not hurt the overworked and abused slaves because their daily energy needs were so great. Today, the more sedentary African-American population suffers from one of the highest incidences of obesity and diabetes, not to mention high blood pressure and the consequences of those diseases. As their energy needs fell, African Americans didn’t reduce their calorie intake.
The term soul food also points to the central place of eating in the African-American population. In the slave quarters, the preparation and sharing of good food helped the slaves to maintain their humanity, helping those even less fortunate than themselves, who might have had no food at all.
Because they had no other material possessions, food became the one symbol of wealth that wasn’t taken from them. It also served as the focus of the creativity and artistic expression of the female slave.
But people don’t have to abandon soul food. African-American cooks at home and chefs in restaurants have learned to use all the healthful ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, with much smaller amounts of fat, sugar, and salt.
They use spices in place of salt in very creative ways to bring out the taste of their fresh ingredients. The meats are leaner, and they use egg whites instead of the whole egg. They also avoid deep-frying as much as possible.
The psychological implications of food in the African-American population means that changing from less healthy to more healthy food requires a change in mindset. African-American cooks can be just as creative or even more so with healthful ingredients. The use of less fat, less salt, and less sugar is essential, but other ingredients have to take their place.
Quantities of food must be modified, and this may be the most difficult change, given the importance of food both as a symbol of wealth and for sharing. People must eat fewer cakes, pies, and cookies and find ways to creatively prepare fruit to take the place of sweet baked goods.