Though I was born and raised in Chicago, my foodways are wrapped in the warmth of Mississippi and Alabama. I grew up on Southern food and Soul food. Most importantly, I grew up under women (including my mother) who made sure if you were coming to their house or if they were hosting a function you were going to eat. This point needs to be emphasized because we live in a time now that if you eat differently than the masses of your family and friends, social gatherings will leave you either bringing something to the party or hungry. That’s just not the way I grew up.
If we knew someone did not eat pork, my mom would get some smoked turkey. It was not “unheard of” for someone to not eat catfish, so you would buy buffalo fish or cook salmon. I remember the first time my husband went to spend holiday with my parents, my mom made savory navy bean patties, okra socatash, she even hand made whole wheat cornbread. Now mind you, I was pissed ’bout that cornbread, cuz she raised us on Jiffy and all this damn time she knew how to make cornbread from scratch ha! My husband is vegan, but because my mother loved to cook and the motto has always been “cook so people can eat”…this did not deter her from cooking a meal he could enjoy. My mom did not have to go to a special vegan or vegetarian cooking class. She just used what she had– our foodways.
One of the main reasons vegan/vegetarians (especially AA) go so hard at looking down upon meat eaters and/or over defending their eating habits, is that for many of them, their experience at social functions, from holidays, weddings, family reunions, etc., has been less than satisfactory. They have been left hungry and misunderstood. So guess what? That leaves them all the time in the world to critique your food. I know, 2 wrongs don’t make a right–but it damn “sho'” feel good. And do you know there are people who will invite others to functions and purposely not have any food for them to eat? That is how inconsiderate and hateful we have become as a community. I’m not talking about having Thanksgiving dinner and your cousin brings a date and you didn’t know she was gluten-intolerant. I’m speaking on knowing you have a nephew or cousin that has not eaten pork or shellfish in years and you still NEVER ATTEMPT to have a dish for them. That’s kind of messed up.
So my food and cooking Point of View is Soul Food inspired by the African Diaspora and cooked with real ingredients and in a way that my family and friends can enjoy, no matter their eating “category”. For instance, this past New Year’s Eve we had a big to do. Here was my menu:
Pollo en Fricase
Black Eye Peas (West African Style)
Shito (West African Red “sauce”)
Ground Seed Stew (made with sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter)
Hot Water Cornbread
Navy Bean Pie
My FIL made some Hibiscus punch and the night was a hit. If you notice, I have one meat dish, and EVERY other dish is vegan. Also, I have one raw dish–my home made guac contains no sour cream or dairy products–it’s completely fresh veggies. The meat dish, Pollo en Fricase, is Puerto Rican style. I made my own adobo, sofrito, and instead of red wine, I used apple cider and a little apple cider vinegar.
Nothing on the menu was “weird” or “tasted healthy” even though I did everything from scratch, used no pork, or dairy fat. I also cooked within my cultural norms–not my blood type 😉 In my family and culture, folks have chosen for health or religious reasons to eat or not eat certain things. I know this. I love to cook and I get my joy from feeding people from the heart. No matter if a person is a raw foodist, vegan or only eats fish, I want to make sure that if they are invited to any event I host, they will leave with a belly full. And you know what? When everybody has something on their plates that they enjoy, tastes good, and meets their eating “category”–no one has time to comment on what the next person is eating. It’s like a food utopia. In my opinion, THAT tastes pretty damn good.