The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 2, 2012

Mike Pound: Soul food a tribute to earlier generations

By Mike Pound

— I’ve got a problem.

I’m sure most people, when I mention that, roll their eyes and think, “How can he have a problem? All he has to worry about is writing a goofy column and when he’s done he goes home to a wife and a 14-year-old daughter who ignore him so, really, all he has to do is drink beer, watch baseball and talk to his dog. Some problem.”

To those of you who think that I just have one thing to say: Sometimes my dog ignores me, too.

My problem today is that my friend Jim West asked me to write a bit about the upcoming Soul Food Cook-off and I’m not hungry. The reason I’m not hungry is because I grabbed a sandwich at the Price Cutter on Maiden Lane for lunch. I often pick up lunch at the Price Cutter. I realize that a grocery store is not the first place you tend to think of when you think of lunch but really, it’s a pretty good place to get lunch. I’m not talking about the restaurant in the grocery store, although it’s very good, too. Nope, I’m talking about zipping into the grocery store’s deli section, grabbing a pre-made sandwich and zipping out (taking time to pay for the sandwich, of course).

I finished my sandwich about 30 minutes ago and I’m still full. It’s hard to write about food when you’re not hungry and it’s almost impossible to write about food when you’re full. You know how some folks say that you should never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry? Well, you should also never try to write about food when you’re full. It has been said that (Warning: Obscure reference only for English majors coming next) Henry Fielding fasted for nine days before he wrote the famous food scene in his novel “Tom Jones.”

So I’m faced with the task of writing about the upcoming Soul Food Cook-off on a full stomach. First of all, the Soul Food Cook-Off is a fundraiser for the Emancipation Park Day Committee and is set for 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Community Service Center, 110 Main St. Park Day Committee members are looking for the best soul food cooks in the area. The entry fee to compete is $10 and folks wanting to take part need to call 417-483-1752 or 417-782-0055 by Friday, Oct. 12. You will also be able to sample the food at the cook-off for $5.

I suppose it’s important, when taking about soul food, to come up with some sort of definition.

First of all, I have talked to many people about this and I have been assured that white people can cook soul food just as well as black people. Most of the people I’ve spoken with have told me that soul food is not so much a race thing as it is an economic thing. Soul food is the food that our grandparents probably grew up with — assuming your grandparents came through the Great Depression. Good soul food was born of hard times, times when folks with the least had to get the most out of what they had. Collard greens most certainly qualifies as soul food. But so does fried mush, a dish my grandmother taught my dad to make and he, in turn, taught it to me. Fried chicken is soul food. So is chicken fried steak. Macaroni and cheese is soul food as is chicken and sausage gumbo. Lobster is not soul food unless you grew up in Maine during the Depression and were the child of a poor lobster trapper.

Soul food was made with love. It’s food made by folks who wanted to take something that was just OK and turn it into something that was fantastic for their family. And today, when folks fix soul food dishes they do so in honor of those parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who fix those same dishes for them.

All of a sudden I’m getting hungry.