photo by Southern Foodways Alliance.
Sophia Tareen’s article published on various platforms this month, entitled “Chicago Soul Food Disappearing as Blacks Leave, (excerpted below) brings up a number of over-arching issues as to why these community institutions have had some hard times, but leaves out any solutions, leaving us with sort of a hollow ‘sign-of-the-times’ .
“The sweet aroma of fresh waffles and salty fried chicken – family recipes passed down through the generations – hang in the air. No soda is served, only sweet tea.
But places like [Hard Times] Josephine’s – located in a sagging building off a busy commercial stretch [79th Street] may number only a half dozen now, having gradually given way to fast food, healthy food and imports like Cajun cuisine, along with the pressures of a bad economy. Also, more middle-class residents are moving to the suburbs, some retirees are heading “home” to the South and others are pursuing the economic lures of the Sunbelt, reversing the historic wave that brought southern blacks pouring into Chicago for jobs in industry.
The Chatham neighborhood on the South Side shows the change. The rows of once-classy homes in the black middle-class neighborhood, including a brick cottage that was home to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, are now pocked with boarded-up windows and vacant properties. Other traditionally black neighborhoods have suffered even more as the population loss and foreclosure crisis have left behind weed-filled lots.
One of the most popular soul food restaurants in town, Army & Lou’s, closed this year.
“When you lose your base, your foundation, the next generation isn’t there to keep it going,” said former owner Harry Fleming. “It’s losing a real strong sense of heritage.”
Earlier this year, the South Side lost Izola’s, known for its seafood. The year before it was Edna’s, a West Side establishment patronized by King. Also gone are the longtime Gladys’ Luncheonette, a popular musicians’ hangout with great banana pie, and Soul Queen.”
The article wraps up by stating (among other things):
“Increasing health consciousness has also played a role. Soul food, often fried and made with full-fat ingredients, has gotten a bad rap in recent years.”
Of course… it’s the yams and greens that have made us plump. It COULDN’T be the Fast Food spots on every corner….
These restaurant represent an indelible part of Chicago’s heritage, just like the music discussed on this blog. To me, the younger generation is charged with taking the mantle of this food that came with our ancestors and not letting it die.
The original food that became soul food was as “green” as green could be: fully organic, locally grown, and fresh. Urban transplants did what they could to recreate peach cobbler with canned peaches, but there’s nothing in the world like “Soul Food” the way it’s supposed to be. I, for one, want to see a “Real Food” restaurant, without greyish green beans, but rather the kind Grandma trimmed at the kitchen table.
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