Reviews for Soul Food : The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time


Booklist Reviews 2013 July #1
*Starred Review* Miller moves way past common notions about soul food--that it is unhealthy and its origins are from the throwaways of slave masters, chitlins (hog intestines) being the best example. It turns out the origin of chitlins can be traced to Britain. That's only one of several revelations Miller offers in this fascinating look at the cuisine known as soul food and its close cousin, southern cuisine. Drawing on memories from home (Denver by way of the South) and visits to some 150 restaurants in 35 cities as well as cookbooks and historical accounts, Miller explores the Native American, African, and European roots of soul food. Focusing on fried chicken, catfish, black-eyed peas, greens, and other elements of soul food, Miller explores their origins and significance in black culture, ending each chapter with recipes. From what he identifies as slave food to southern cooking to neo-soul, Miller examines the politics, culture, sociology, and economics of soul food. It evolved from something to be ashamed of as rural people moved north to the cities into an expression of race pride, more recently losing luster as tastes and health concerns changed. Photographs and recipes add to the allure of this well-researched look at the past and future of soul food. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 July #1
Delving deep into the culinary (and social) history of one of America's oldest cuisines: soul food. During the 1960s and '70s, soul food came out of the kitchen and into the spotlight, brought to the fore by African-Americans' burgeoning racial pride. Today, however, it comes not only with a side of cultural baggage, but also an unhealthy dietary image--a plate of fried meat or fish with vegetables boiled nearly to death, followed by sweet desserts and even sweeter drinks. Although many other aspects of African-American culture have become globally accepted, "soul food has become a toxic cultural asset inside the black community and a cuisine stigmatized from the outside." In his debut, Miller offers "a very public makeover" for soul food. Rather than take a broad overview of soul food as a cuisine, each chapter dives deep into the background of one specific dish, covering both the oldest food traditions (e.g., fried chicken, greens and corn bread) and some more recent additions (red Kool-Aid and macaroni and cheese). Miller's historical trails are occasionally a bit speculative, such as his efforts to put Kool-Aid in a line of red beverages stretching back to drinks made with kola nuts in western parts of Africa. Overall, though, the author's pages are lively, with few lapses into overly dry detail. Nearly every chapter concludes with two recipes for the food being discussed, usually a traditional recipe and a newer, healthier version. For instance, the chapter on desserts ends with the banana pudding made by Miller's own mother, rich with egg yolks and whole milk, followed by a peach crisp made with little sugar and whole wheat flour. Offering both recipes is just part of soul food's "heritage of experimentation," and Miller encourages professional chefs and home cooks alike to "name and embrace the new culinary form without jettisoning the old." An engaging, tradition-rich look at an often overlooked American cuisine--certainly to be of interest to foodies from all walks of life. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 July #1

While many aspects of African American culture have been embraced by the mainstream, Miller contends that soul food remains largely ignored, mostly owing to its unhealthy image. In an attempt to revamp its poor reputation, Miller offers up this comprehensive and entertaining history of soul food, tracing its evolution from its beginnings with slavery to the Great Migrations from the rural South. While different slaving systems led to subregional cuisines, such as Lowcountry, Creole, and Cajun, Miller focuses on the Deep South, or Black Belt, as the heart of soul food. Chapters are divided into the dishes most representative of the cuisine, including fried chicken, catfish, chitlins, cornbread, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, Kool-Aid, banana pudding, and sweet potato pie. Consulting historical cookbooks and firsthand accounts of the enslaved and visiting soul food restaurants across the country, Miller discusses the evolution of each dish and explains why it has attained a permanent place in soul food cuisine. VERDICT A lively and thorough account for fans of food literature and of African American history. Recipes included. Highly recommended.--Melissa Stoeger, Deerfield P.L., IL

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