Great Parts of a Hearty Meal: Our Review of ‘Searching for Soul Food’

Posted in Disney + by - June 02, 2023
Great Parts of a Hearty Meal: Our Review of ‘Searching for Soul Food’

Alisa Reynolds got her classical training as a French chef. But she also got her love of cooking from the Black tradition of soul food. Whenever I hear soul food, I think of the film and TV spinoff.  Aaron McGruder made fun of that franchise in his sitcom The Boondocks. In one way or another, people have their own conceptions of food and associations with certain food and cultures. Back to Reynolds, her main goal in her show on Hulu/Disney+, Searching for Soul Food, is to literally search for how different cultures do food. But in doing so, she also reintroduces the concept of soul food to people of all cultures. She’s showing that soul food has history, that it can be healthy, and that it can taste real good.

Reynolds travels to places she has ancestral connections with and some that she doesn’t. She goes to places like Mississippi, South Africa, and Peru to find fellow Afro-Carribeans in those places. It’s easy to find her people in Mississippi, where some Black people live and have returned to grow soul food vegetables like kale which yes, kale wasnt originally a bougie food and yes, soul food can be healthy. Anyway, she’s also looking for cultural connections, whether or not they’re Afro-Caribbean, that surprises her and may surprise us viewers. In doing so, she shows Black food culture and all food culture within a larger melting pot. Through animation segments and narration, she tells us about how enslaved people survived through their own innovation but also through the help of Indigenous people who taught them how to make certain recipes that are now part of soul food.

In Searching, Reynolds interviews fellow chefs but she also talks to people who participate in different artforms. The episode on South Africa exemplifies this, as she talks to chefs of either Black or Cape Malay heritage. As an aside, I didn’t expect to see the show’s Southeast Asian connection in this particular episode. I love a show that can surprise and think ahead of its viewers. Back to the show, most of the other artists she talks to are musicians like those whose works are within South Africa’s amapiano genre. Other artists also get their own time in the spotlight in the show, using food and art as a way for enslaved people of all heritages to resist and remember their humanity.

Part of the show is Reynolds travelling the world. And as she does this, she and her viewers hear stories that feel familiar to her ancestors as well as ancestors of enslaves people. Working class Neapolitans had to eat scraps that ended up on what we now call pizza. Afro-Peruvians and all enslaved visible minorities had to survive with the scraps that the mostly white coloniers left for them. This is simlar to Reynolds’ story, a descendant of ADOS people in Anglophile North America. The show lets the descendants of those people tell the stories of determination. We can see that determination through the food they and we eat today.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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