Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Northern states should try to embrace Southern cuisine

Southern food has a rich history and should be enjoyed by Americans everywhere
Collegian File Photo

Last year, I decided to attend the University of Massachusetts. I’m from a small suburb of Atlanta, so most of my peers went to colleges in either Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee or South Carolina, and it is safe to say I was a bit of an odd one out. When I told people where I was planning on attending college, many of them joked about me having to learn to live without sweet tea. When I got here, I quickly realized that sweet tea was not the only Southern staple that would no longer be at my disposal.

I vividly remember one day last fall when I walked into Harvest Market to get dinner. In the hot food line, there was an entrée marked “Southern Style Fried Chicken.” I realized that this was the first time I had seen fried chicken since I got to school, and that, apparently, fried chicken is a “Southern food.” The food offered was, in fact, fried chicken, but it was most definitely not “Southern style.” In the South, we know to season the chicken before we cook it.

Since then, I’ve noticed a significant number of foods that are readily available back home that are nowhere to be seen in New England. It is important to note that the reason Southern cuisine is so prevalent in the South is that it comes directly from slavery. Following the abolition of slavery, most formerly enslaved people could not afford to move across the country, and many Black Americans stayed in the South. The years directly following 1865 saw the creation of “soul food” in states such as Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. I’ve always been aware that soul food is a profoundly Southern tradition but was surprised to learn that many of my peers in Massachusetts had never even heard of it.

Over the last 150 years, soul food has had an enormous influence on Southern cuisine. Dishes such as collard greens, fried okra, country-fried steak, crawdads and biscuits can all be directly credited to Black Americans living in the South who had just been freed from slavery. This cuisine quickly made its way out of just Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, rapidly spreading to other Southern states. Most states throughout the country will have “Southern-style” restaurants or a couple of dishes reminiscent of traditional Southern food. Over the past year, I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything like this in Massachusetts.

When I shared these opinions with some of my Massachusetts peers, one person remarked, “At least there’s a Popeye’s opening up down the street!” It worries me to think that an entire region of America believes that traditional Southern cuisine can be purchased in a Popeye’s drive-through. Traditional Southern food is cooked and sold by small Black-owned businesses, not multi-million-dollar national conglomerates.

I can walk into a restaurant in Georgia and get clam chowder; why can I not buy country-fried steak in the North? I believe that many New Englanders tend to look down upon Southern people. I have heard people in Massachusetts refer to Southerners as “obese,” which I think may be one of the root causes for their aversion to Southern food. Obviously, people in the South don’t deep fry their every meal (personally, I wish we did), but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence.

At the end of the day, Southern food has an incredibly rich history that I believe is essential for everyone to learn about. African American history is still American history, although it tends to be overlooked in American history classes. Similarly, Southern culture is still a part of American culture, and our cuisine is a large part of our lifestyles. The next time you happen to find yourself in a small Southern town, there’s a good chance you can find a place that sells authentic soul food, and if you’ve never had it before, you should absolutely give it a try.

Zach Leach can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @ZachLeach12.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • L

    LindsayOct 7, 2023 at 10:24 pm

    I think you’re point that the north needs to offer more southern foods when you claim in your article that northerners don’t even know what southern food tastes like is a little silly. How can they possibly cater to to the tastes of southerners if they are unfamiliar with it altogether? And, if they did offer it, it most likely would be a poor representation (like the chicken).

    Also, I’m deeply offended that you think clam chowder is the same no matter where you get it. If you tried to understand northern cuisine, you would not have said that! It is so different, even among northern states.

    I currently live in Nashville and I am lamenting the loss of good, 24 hour diners. Diners that have amazing food and are inexpensive. People suggest Waffle House and I (like you with Popeyes) could not fathom that being the same thing. I miss real pizza, and Chinese food (none of the Chinese food is good here).

    I think you just have to make concessions when you move to a new part of the country and embrace things that you do like. I love bisuits, I love collard greens, I had never had pimento cheese before! I will save my appetite though for when I go back north because that is the food I truly love!