Jennifer Jensen Wallach's nuanced history of black foodways across
the twentieth century challenges traditional narratives of "soul
food" as a singular style of historical African American cuisine.
Wallach investigates the experiences and diverse convictions of
several generations of African American activists, ranging from
Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois to Mary Church Terrell,
Elijah Muhammad, and Dick Gregory. While differing widely in their
approaches to diet and eating, they uniformly made the cultivation
of "proper" food habits a significant dimension of their work and
their conceptions of racial and national belonging. Tracing their
quests for literal sustenance brings together the race, food, and
intellectual histories of America.
Directly linking black political activism to both material and
philosophical practices around food, Wallach frames black identity
as a bodily practice, something that conscientious eaters not only
thought about but also did through rituals and performances of food
preparation, consumption, and digestion. The process of choosing
what and how to eat, Wallach argues, played a crucial role in the
project of finding one's place as an individual, as an African
American, and as a citizen.