FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Food for the People

The soul food movement celebrated the culturally and socially important foods of African American people. 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 black southerners 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

Gift of Rayna Green

Vertamae Grosvenor, a performer and journalist, took her skills and knowledge of African roots cooking to a new popularity with this cookbook about her South Carolina Sea Islands upbringing.

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

Gift of Rayna Green

The Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad urged African Americans to reject pork, peas, collard greens, and other foods associated with slavery yet 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 many communities. This cookbook remains popular among home cooks.

 

E & A Soul Food Restaurant, 1994

E & A Soul Food Restaurant, 1994

Courtesy of American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

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. In 1994, least three soul food restaurants were thriving in Paterson.

Menu board, 1994

Menu board, 1994

Courtesy American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Restaurant worker Gladys Prior updates the menu board at the E & A Soul Food Restaurant.