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Tribeless Topics: Soul Food

Hey, Fellow Tribeless!

What’s on your mind today? So, here we are, sitting in the Sweet Home Café of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture eating heart-warming Soul Food, and I find myself pondering the etymology of the ethnic classification, “Soul Food”. Obviously, the terminology is pretty straightforward and clear, food that feeds the soul, and perhaps, even more accurate, food made from the soul to nourish the soul. Fried chicken, greens, southern-style slaw, cornbread, hoppin’ John – mmmmm, Soul Food.

And while my tummy is happily digesting the comforting, warming, yumminess, my brain continues chugging along its track. Is Soul Food the only cuisine that feeds the soul? How about General Tso’s chicken or lasagna or molé or falafel or duck a l'orange? Perhaps to answer this question, I need to rewind.

I grew up with a utilitarian view of food. It was not tasty or something to be enjoyed or for celebration, but simply necessary for survival, to feed the machine. I merely ate to live. I didn’t understand the true importance of food, that it has a life and a breath all its own, an invigorating energy distilled from the essence of its maker and spiced up with the love they embody when sharing it with others. For it is the love of preparing and sharing food, no matter how much or how little, that infuses it with its vitality, and it’s this vitality that nourishes the soul. Food is a communal event, a shared experience that unites us all inside the human condition.

Now I’m older, a bit wiser, and have reveled in many of the diverse flavors of the world. I have finally come to understand that food is much more vital than just feeding the machine. Which brings me back to our Soul Food lunch. What mattered most about that meal wasn’t the cornbread or rice and beans or chicken, it was sharing it with a friend while enjoying an engaging and expressive yet profound conversation. Ironically, we were discussing food (among other topics)! But the soul nourishment of the meal was in the sharing, the Experience of eating. And as I think back to my most momentous memories involving food, they all include great people.

So, naturally, I then begin to wonder, what about when you’re dining alone? And then it hit me, well DUH! I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty awesome and fun person to hang out with, even for myself! Dining alone can be a great adventure and just as soul nourishing if you truly appreciate yourself. It took me a long time and years of lone, lunchtime depression to learn that. If you don’t like yourself, dining alone is torture and certainly does NOT feed your soul. But enjoying your own company, seizing the opportunity to float among your inner thoughts, or simply engaging in an activity you enjoy like reading a book or watching your favorite guilty-pleasure movie while dining alone transforms your meal into Soul Food. So, sharing with yourself is just as powerful and nurturing as sharing with strangers, sharing with acquaintances, and sharing with friends and family.

Circling back to my initial inquiry: are non-Soul Foods also Soul Food? If it’s shared with yourself or with others, you bet! What does food mean for you? How does food nourish you? What are your favorite memories involving food? Who is sharing it with you? Let’s do lunch and chat.

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