KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Soul food has been around for decades and continues to develop over time through recipes that have been passed down through generations. As it continues to gain popularity across the United States, to the Black community it’s not only food that’s flavorful… it tells their story.

Dr. Robert David Bland, an assistant professor of history and Africana studies at the University of Tennessee, defines soul food as, “African American food routed in the Black southern diet and has roots in slavery.”

“Having limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, their (those who were enslaved) diet contained of salt, pork, corn pone and the vegetables that you could grow in your own garden that you had to tend to when you were not working from sunup to sundown,” Dr. Bland said.

“A lot of the meat and fish in the diet had to be supplemented in hunting and fishing on your own time. Also making do with the leftover ingredients like chitlins, bacon, those are not the prime cuts, those are not the ideal portions that white families were feeding themselves, those were enslaved families feeding themselves to survive.”

Each person has their own chapter they’ve written about their relationship with soul food. Like Henry McGowan, who was born near Memphis and soon found himself in East Tennessee as the owner and operator of Wholly Souled Soul Food.

“From my standpoint it was the best food because you didn’t have a choice when I was coming up, either you ate what you had, or you wish you had it,” McGowan said.

Now he’s turning his soul food memories into tasteful opportunities for people to not only enjoy, but to understand the result of its creation, which is that it brought — and still brings Black families together.

“When I was coming up, there were a couple generations in one household, a little less money and even less food, but there was unity and love, and soul food gives you a real good definition of where I came from,” McGowan said.

Over time, soul food has developed, and now families everywhere savor the many flavors and styles of the African American cuisine.

“Soul food in many ways becomes Southern food,” Dr. Bland said. “We’re talking about Golden Corral, Paula Dean, the kind of highbrow restaurants that are merging in places like Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans and Charleston, but we shouldn’t lose sight of its deep roots in Black culture and Black history.”