WRITTEN BY : LIVITY
African Americans have involuntary been elected to be the ambassadors of fried chicken. The stereotype of our love of the seasoned, crispy, and moist bird does hold some truth. Social media is flooded with clips of angry African Americans, throwing temper tantrums upon hearing their local Popeye’s is out of chicken. Hollywood has romanticized African Americans’ love for fried chicken through too many scenes in which the camera focuses close on the succulent fried piece of goodness. In reality, every culture loves fried foods. African Americans’ love affair is normal human behavior, as humans love fried foods.
There are two main occurrences that bonded African Americans with fried chicken; the exposure to European food during the colonial period and the mass migration from the rural south to bustling Northern cities for employment opportunities during the twentieth century.
Whenever discussing African American cultures, if possible one should began with customs of the people prior to the Atlantic slave trade, which helps illuminate what aspects of the culture remained and what was lost.
Originally from Asia, the gallus domesticus is the ancestor of the modern bird we call a chicken. Arab traders from Northern Africa introduced chickens into West Africa by 1000 CE. Tribes viewed the chicken as a token of luck. The chicken was also used as blood sacrifice in some Western African tribal ceremonies. Numerous people falsely claim Africans were vegetarians. Though their diet differed immensely from that of citizens in an industrial society, they did eat meat. Though their meat consumption was scarce and diverse, Africans exposed to Islam refrained from the consumption of pigs. Chickens were mostly consumed on special occasions. Yes, it was fried, in palm oil, though it was not the only method of preparation. There is no documentation of whether the chicken was dredged in egg, flour, hot sauce, but we know for sure it was fried. So we can confidently state Africans fried chicken despite the technique being different than the southern style we now love so much.
Upon arrival to the new world, slaves did what slaves do and, served their owners, one of the tasks being cooking. Slaves were responsible for frying chicken, using British techniques. The style of fried chicken we love has its roots from the British Isles. An unfortunate trait of the oppressed is assimilating to the culture of the oppressor. This is what led to African Americans eating fried chicken, chitlins, and macaroni and cheese. Side note, chitlins have nothing to do with Africa or African Americans. Rural people of Britain and France ate the organs of gamed animals. Chitlins derives from Europeans love of deer entrails which was viewed as a delicacy. In the new world Europeans substituted the pig for the deer.
Fried chicken had a great resurgence during the Great Migration of African Americans during most of the twentieth century. As millions of African Americans crowded the Northern cities of Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York, entrepreneurs capitalized on the opportunity of providing southern dishes for over-worked blacks. Though the name was not coined yet, these restaurants served what by the end of the twentieth century would be referred to as soul food. Due to lack of space and lack of time due to rigorous work hours, frying food became a convenient method of cooking chicken. This is truly a case where practice makes perfect. The ingredients are not what heightens the level of taste, it’s the soul. Soul food was a term coined during the conscious movement. The term initially received slack from African Americans who felt the food choices were unhealthy and shouldn’t be praised.
Despite the great taste and moments of joy fried chicken brings, it also can bring more somber moments, like the death of a loved one. Let’s face it folks our diet is killing us and fried foods are a key culprit in 50- year-old black men dropping dead. There are two problems with fried chicken, it being fried and the chicken itself.
When animals eat meat, it’s fresh, just killed. The meat is not killed in March, stored, shipped, and shelved in April. The meat they eat is not treated with steroids and antibiotics, about which scientist are unsure of the long-term effects on humans.
What scientists do know is rotten medicated meat does not agree well with the human body. Fried food has also been proven to cause devastation to the human body. Oil clogs your veins, clogged arteries cause heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and aneurysms. African Americans suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and hyper-tension. Fried foods coupled with an inactive lifestyle limits and destroys the quality of life for many African Americans.
Maybe since soul food is really not African nor African American, we should come up with something with less grease, sugar, salt, and butter. We as a community need to reinvent the criteria for soul food so it actually is soulful, assisting us in the sustenance, energy, and growth of our temple. Too many from previous generations have died painful, grueling deaths, that could be avoided by a change in lifestyle and eating choices. “Big momma” is not supposed to be big; the only reason she is big is because she is unhealthy. If any change is going to come it’s going to come from this generation providing the next generation with the greatest gift of how to eat and live a healthy lifestyle. This knowledge will heighten the quality of life lived, not burdened by obesity and preventable diseases.
As a former lover of fried chicken, I would be a hypocrite to deny the moments of bliss experienced by “well-fried chicken”. However I love my life much more than exciting my taste buds.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Soul Food, Adrian Miller