Thought About Food Podcast

Christopher Carter on The Spirit of Soul Food

April 26, 2021

This episode we spoke with Christopher Carter about faith, black veganism, and soul food.

Show Notes:

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  • Christopher Carter is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Chair of the Theology and Religious Studies department at the University of San Diego and a Faith in Food Fellow at Farm Forward.
  • Christopher's forthcoming book is The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, Faith, and Food Justice from the University of Illinois Press.
  • Christopher mentions that his use of Black Veganism is directly inspired by Aph Ko and Syl Ko's book Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters
  • Christopher shared a recipe for red beans and rice, one of the first that he successfully "veganized." This also counts as a teaser for his book, since this recipe and others are included throughout the text (something I wish more academic books on food would do!):
    Red Beans & Rice
    For me, a Black man whose American ancestry begins in Mississippi and Louisiana, the foundational soul food dish will always be red beans and rice. This recipe was a staple in my childhood, something we could eat on special occasions and when our budget for food was slim. For me, red beans and rice feels like home. When the pervasive reality of racism knocks me offcenter, red beans and rice can be the ground from which I can regain my sense of self and remember myself as beloved by my community and beloved by the Ultimate source of compassion. Despite all the stress, micro, and macro aggressions I may face, sitting down at the dinner table and eating red beans gives me a little something to help me keep-on-keeping-on, as the elders would say.

    If we think about the history of Black foodways as a window into the racism that was and continues to be foundational to our domestic food system, we realize that Black foodways have a deeper meaning that can easily be overlooked. Knowing this history and finding ourselves within this story prompts theological reflection and response. Decolonial analysis seeks to unsettle the notion that theory and praxis are necessarily separate from each other—theory is thinking, and thinking is doing, and praxis necessarily requires thought-reflection on actions. Both my Christian faith and my identity as Black man influence the analysis, arguments, and constructive proposals that I put forth in this book. What some might see as a provocative suggestion, black veganism, is rooted in these two identities. However, what follows in this book is not a straightforward argument for veganism. My own path to veganism was not straightforward, it  was a complicated and challenging transition and it would be foolish to expect otherwise from anyone else but especially Black people given the ways that our foodway is racialized. Black veganism is a process of being and becoming, knowing who we are and what tools we need to use so that Black foodways can be a source of abundant life for Black communities.

    When I became vegetarian and subsequently transitioned to veganism, I feared that my evolving diet compromised my ability to feel like I was a part of my community when we sat down for meals. Moreover, if I could not eat red beans and rice, I wondered, “what kind of Black person would I be,” could I still claim to be standing on the culinary shoulders of my ancestors? Finding a vegan version of this dietary staple opened my eyes to the creativity one can have cooking soul food. Preparing it and serving it to my family revealed that this delicious version conjures the same familial memories as its nonhuman animal meat-based alternative, and thus possesses the strength to become a foundational family dish too. Because of this, red beans and rice is the first dish we set out upon our vegan soul food table.
    Two 15oz. cans of Kidney beans, rinsed and drained
    4 cups of broth made from Better than Bouillon Vegetable base
    4 vegan sausages (I highly recommend Field Roast Apple Sage, Italian, or Mexican Chipotle)
    1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil (or any high heat oil)
    1 large white onion, diced medium
    6 six-inch celery stalks, diced small
    6 garlic cloves, minced
    1 teaspoon chili powder
    1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
    ½ cup of green onions
    Heat a 4-5 quart stew pot over high heat, add the oil and wait until it shimmers. Add the onion
    and celery and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the
    garlic and cook about 2 minutes more. Add the sausage, chili powder, thyme, broth, beans, and
    bell pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt,
    pepper, and your favorite hot sauce. Serve over a bed of rice, garnish with the green onions.

  • The intro and outro music is "Whiskey Before Breakfast" which is both a great traditional song and an interesting interpretation of "praxis." It was performed and shared by The Dan River Ramblers under a Creative Commons license.

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