December 12, 2013
By Pablo ToledoMonday, October 21, 2013
What's in a meal?
Is white mom's soul food (1) meal offensive?
Q: I had dinner with my white girlfriend and her mother recently. Her mother cooked, and I was surprised that the meal was all ’soul food’ — chitlins, greens and sweet potato pie (2). My girlfriend said her mom likes to cook new things and I should think nothing of it. Didn’t think much of it then, but my friends say it was insulting. Was it? — R.W.
A: Your question reminds me of what the cafeteria at my college would serve during the first week of February: fried chicken, collard greens (3), mashed potatoes, candied yams (3) and watermelon. With the exception of maybe Thanksgiving, the cafeteria never offered a similar spread (4). And while the food was tasty it was pretty clear that this ‘soul food‘ offering was in honor of Black History Month.
You know and I know that nearly every person who eats meat likes fried chicken, and loving watermelon is pretty universal, even if both foods are always attributed to being a stereotypical ‘black thing.‘ The rest of these dishes are also consumed by US nonblacks, especially across the South, so it was curious to me why they were limited to Black History Month (5).
Despite the abundance of white and Asian customers each time I pass by a soul food restaurant, soul food is considered black food. And that’s why my college cafeteria and your girlfriend’s mother prepared it in some weird sort of honour to mark a black occasion.
The good news is that you’re not offended by Mom’s efforts, so this isn’t a rift (6) in your relationship that needs mending. But I do see how your friends would consider Mom’s meal insulting.
Mom’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner‘ meal indicates that she has assumed that because you are black, you automatically must like these things that are stereotypically associated with blackness. If Mom really wanted to impress you she would have been better off asking (7) your girlfriend what your favorite dish was and trying to master that instead.
Mom obviously doesn’t know too much about black folks. Her dinner lineup reads like the search engine results for ‘What do black people like to eat?‘ But take it in the spirit of what it likely was, even if it was misguided: a mom’s attempt to make her daughter’s black boyfriend feel comfortable.
Adapted from an article by Demetria L. Lucas in The Root.
Soul food (1)
Fatty, abundant and deep-fried: expect this of soul food, the traditional food of the south of the US with its roots in black culture. Plantation owners gave their slaves the worst meat cuts and leftover vegetables – soul food made a virtue of necessity and turned these ingredientes into a culinary tradition.
Short for “chitterlings”: the small intestines of a pig (a pork version of our “chinchulines”).
Sweet potato pie (2)
A traditional pie filled with sweet potatoes, milk, sugar and eggs, flavoured with nutmeg, vanilla or banana extracts.
Collard greens (3)
Collard greens is a deep-green leaf vegetables of the same family as broccoli and cabbage (sometimes translated as “berza” or “col rizada”).
Candied yams (3)
Candied yams are a dessert made with sweet potato (or “yams”) glazed with sugar, butter and more.
One of the meanings of “spread,” when used as a noun, is a large meal prepared for a special occasion.
Black History Month (5)
Black History Month (February in the US and Canada, October in the UK) is an annual celebration to remember the important people and events in the history of the African diaspora (the people of African origin living outside the continent). The US first officially adopted it in 1976, followed by the UK in 1978 and Canada in 1985.
A rift is a serious disagreement between two people – especially one that stops, breaks or seriously complicates their relationship.
To be better off doing (7)
If you are better off doing something, you would be happier or more satisfied if you were in that particular position or did that particular thing.
This article touches on many fascinating issues, but this time we will choose a subject that is not strictly linguistic: the role of stereotypes.
Stereotypes are those ideas that we automatically associate with certain people (“all X are Y”). They are a form of prejudice, and whether we like to admit it or not we use prejudice, both positive and negative. It is how we begin to make sense of a world filled with people and situations that we don’t know.
But speaking another language is about communicating with people of different cultures, and communication is the best remedy against stereotypes and prejudice. The more contact we have with others, the more we see them as individuals and the less we look at stereotypes to understand them. And that is the best part about speaking another language!