Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soul Food

Soul Food
first seen in Queens, New York
1997

If you were to ask her, my mother would probably tell you that I was a much less discriminating eater when I was a child. And that's probably true. My mother was never the type to cook big huge meals on a regular basis. Our meals were what they were. Sometimes we all ate together, but most times we didn't. The kitchen in our old apartment was small; it was the first room you'd step into as you entered and it doubled as the dining room. It was the hub which connected to the two bedrooms, the bathroom and the living room.
The east windows looked out onto the neighbor's front yard and driveway. Often times I would play on the kitchen floor. My mother still has our old hardwood kitchen table, all these years later, although a leg is finally beginning to weaken.

I don't recall having any unusual favorite foods as a child. I took my peanut butter sandwiches with the crusts off, like most kids. I liked toast a lot. My mother was always able to get it just the right shade of golden brown before applying the jelly. Same thing goes for corn bread. When you're eight years old, things like that make all the difference in the world. I couldn't get enough of spaghetti or Rice-a-Roni. Corn was, and is, my vegetable of choice.

Sometimes I'd watch my mother cook things like chicken and fish; other times she'd try to teach me. Pancakes were always fun to make. Mixing the batter was a bit of a chore, but pouring it onto the griddle was the best part. Hamburgers proved easier than I thought they'd be, as were grilled cheese sandwiches. In junior high I took a home ec class for one semester and we learned how to cook things like biscuits. I considered it a crowning achievement at the time. (Do they still have home economics classes these days? I doubt it.)

The food in Soul Food is an important, if not the important, tie that binds the family in the film together, in good times and bad. The health factor is not ignored - indeed, Irma P. Hall's matriarch character has diabetes, and her daughters implore her to take better care of herself - but it's little different than other traditional foods in other Western cultures, handed down through the generations. There's a small element of foodie porn at play; the camera lovingly lingers on the platters at times, but that's to be expected, I think.

Soul Food is an overlooked gem. The characters have their flaws, men and women both, yet remain recognizably human. The story doesn't feel melodramatic, and the themes are universal. I know I don't normally intend these posts as reviews, but this film came out in a year of outstanding movies overall and isn't as well-remembered as it should be, I think (although it did lead to a cable TV series). I feel the need, therefore, to say that it's a movie anyone can appreciate and it is worth your time checking out.


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Related:
Soul Food Junkies

2 comments:

  1. I don't know if you saw the Boondocks episode where Huey's grand-dad opens a soul-food restaurant and Huey constantly harangues him about how dangerous such food is, but it's a favorite of mine. There's a voice-over bit where he sums up the "Soul Food" movie in maybe six sentences; old lady serves massive loads of pig lard to her family, then she dies, and the survivors keep eating the stuff as if they haven't learned anything.

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  2. Yeah, well, let's just say I saw the movie a little differently than that.

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