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Southern Food vs. Soul Food: What’s the Difference?

By Mary Grace Heath

 

When it comes to soul food, people rave about the flavor that the food has and its “at home” feel. Though this feeling is nostalgic for some, others do not know what it is at all.

According to The Spruce, an online editorial, the term “soul food” comes from civil rights movements during the 1960s as many African-American’s strived to hold on to their cultural legacy by using “soul food” to describe recipes that had been passed down from generations.

In Athens, Georgia, there are over 10 traditional soul food restaurants, and most of them have been around for years serving the people of Athens flavorful food. Though the food is what most come for, there is something much deeper than just the food itself.

When asking a few soul food owners and their customers in Athens how they would define soul food, there were different variations, but it all came back to two things- love and culture.

Customers at Food for the Soul, another soul food restaurant located on Broad Street in Athens, Georgia, shared how they would explain soul food to someone.

“It’s part of our culture, it’s where we came from,” said Shannon Gilham, a customer at Food for the Soul. “It feels like home.”

Wilson’s Soul Food was one of the oldest soul food restaurants in Athens, Georgia and closed in 2011. Wilson’s Soul Food had seen an array of celebrities, served the same customers for years, and Oprah even put them in a story.

Homer Wilson, son of former owners of Wilson’s Soul Food, defined soul food with simplicity.

“When you cook food with love from your heart, that is what soul food is,” said Wilson.

People often mistake Southern food to be the same as soul food. There is a distinct definition of the two, though they might be similar in some places.

Bob Jeffries, author of “Soul Food Cookbook,” summed up the difference of Southern food and soul food.

He explained, “While all soul food is Southern food, not all Southern food is soul. Soul food cooking is an example of how really good Southern [African-American] cooks cooked with what they had available to them.”

“The difference between the food of black and white Southerners are subtle. More capsicum pepper heat, a heavier hand with salt and pepper and a greater use of offal meat are comparative characteristics of soul versus country cooking,” commented John T. Edge, director of Southern Foodways Alliance.

Mimi Maumus is the owner of Home.Made, an upscale southern food restaurant in Athens, Georgia. Maumus shared her food nostalgia history from New Orleans.

“My dad’s butter braised button mushrooms, my grandmother’s bread & butter pickles, my mom’s onion pie, as well as flavors that were a part of my childhood in New Orleans (bay leaves, mirlitons, crab boil), said Maumus.

Home.made might hold true to New Orleans traditional food, but Maumus also joins those traditions with some new southern recipes.

“All of that personal food history merged with a move to Georgia when I was 17,” says Maumus. “and [that’s when I] was introduced to boiled peanuts, pimento cheese and collard greens. Since, I built home.made slowly (and frugally!).”

Though the customers in Athens rave about the soul food restaurants in Athens, soul food did not begin there. It began in African-American homes where they learned from generations before them how to cook.

Della Pass, a Madison County native, cooks soul food every day for herself and her family in her Athens home. She learned to cook from her mother while working in sorority houses in Athens, and brought her talent as she made her own family.

 One day Pass has dreams to open her own restaurant called “Della’s Diner.”

There is a difference between Pass’s and Maumus’ food, but they both go back to each other’s cultures. It shows that there are different variations of the same food around, but the difference in it all is where it came from, the family stories and history behind it.

The taste and ingredients that go into every dish is a little taste of each of their homes. The food they cook is special to each person and something they are proud of.

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