Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern United States. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations and has maintained popularity among the Black American and American Deep-South cotton state communities for centuries; it is now the most common regional cuisine in southern cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Soul food influences can be commonly found as far north as Richmond, Virginia, as far east as Jacksonville, Florida, and as far west as Houston, Texas. The expression soul food may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common word used to describe Black American culture (for example, soul music).
The term soul food became popular in the 1960s, after Alex Haley recorded Malcolm X’s life story in 1963. To Malcolm X, soul food represents both southernness and commensality. Those who had participated in the Great Migration found within soul food a reminder of the home and family they had left behind after moving to unfamiliar northern cities. Soul food restaurants were Black-owned businesses that served as neighborhood meeting places where people socialized and ate together. Early influences included African and Native American cuisine.
Southern Native American culture (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole) is the cornerstone of southern cuisine. From their cultures came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize) – either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, in a Native American process known as nixtamalization. Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes, from the familiar cornbread and grits, to liquors such as moonshine and whiskey (which is still important to the Southern economy).
Many fruits are available in this region: blackberries, muscadines, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans diets, as well.