FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Food for the People

The soul food movement attempted to celebrate the culturally and socially important foods of black people that had been negatively portrayed by mainstream America. Soul food restaurants and cookbooks proliferated and innovators, like Princess Pamela (Strobel), Sylvia (Woods), and Vertamae (Grosvenor) in Harlem, were food stars of their day. Introducing and enshrining the treasured foods of southern blacks to a wide audience, they made soul food, like soul music, synonymous with the cultural contributions of black people to American life.

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, 1969

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, 1969

Gift of Rayna Green

Sylvia’s Soul Food, 1992

Sylvia’s Soul Food, 1992

Gift of Rayna Green

Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, 1992 reprint

Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, 1992 reprint

Vertamae Grosvenor, a performer and journalist and later a television personality, took her skills and knowledge of so-called African “roots” cooking—which she called “vibration” cooking—to a new popularity with this autobiographical culinary cookbook about her South Carolina Sea Islands upbringing.

Gift of Rayna Green

Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature, 1974

Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature, 1974

The Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad urged black people to reject pork-centric “slave food” central to the very definition of soul food. Dick Gregory, a politically active performer, went further by advocating a vegetarian diet, foreshadowing modern health concerns in black and Hispanic communities. This cookbook remains popular among many African Americans.

Gift of Rayna Green

E & A Soul Food Restaurant, 1994

E & A Soul Food Restaurant, 1994

Easter Benson opened her E & A Soul Food Restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1986.  Her menu items reflected the foods and flavors common to the rural African American South.  Here restaurant worker Gladys Prior is updating the menu.  In 1994 there were at least three soul food restaurants thriving in Paterson.

Courtesy American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

E & A Soul Food Restaurant exterior, Patterson New Jersey

E & A Soul Food Restaurant exterior, Patterson New Jersey