I was born in rural Alabama, the home of collard greens, hog jowls, and (baked) macaroni and cheese- the place where you cook with real butter, real sugar, and anything that adds extra grease or calories to a dish. My mother’s specialities are banana pudding, potato salad, and cornbread dressing. My grandmothers were celebrated for their homemade cakes, fried chicken, and tasty vegetables.
My confession, however, is that I’m not a soul food girl. I’d rather learn a new computer language than prepare a holiday soul food dinner for 30 people. This was confirmed for me a couple of years ago when the women of my family sat around our kitchen table peeling potatoes and slicing eggs and pickles while other female members of my family washed gritty, sandy collards in the kitchen sink. Three hours later, we still were prepping all of these ingredients to create only two dishes. (Of course, the men were not expected to cook but were watching any number of sports events on television, but that’s a post for another day!)
It has taken me over 10 years to realize that my professional choices and attitudes inform my holiday cooking perspective. First, I think that women don’t have to fulfill traditional homemaker roles. This means that my husband and I can share meal prep and can use the remaining time to reflect on our lives and on our futures. Second, as an industrial engineer with a passion for efficiency, I don’t believe that it should take days to prepare food. My name is not Ina Garten and the Food Network isn’t taping a holiday food special in my kitchen. For that reason, semi-homemade food can be combined with traditional homemade dishes to make the holidays bright. Finally, as an academic, time is precious. Instead of slaving over a stove, I prefer to talk to my Alabama family and friends, to walk around our yard, to reflect on the lives of my deceased ancestors, or to discuss end of life preferences for my parents (Yes, I’m a planner!).
This holiday, I choose not to feel guilty about being the nontraditional woman that I am. Not cooking a large soul food meal for my family doesn’t make me any less of a woman. My hope is that others who don’t fit into traditional molds will spend the holidays celebrating their uniqueness, not questioning it.
Side Note: Although I don’t love to cook soul food, I do enjoy creating healthy variations of traditional meals. Check out these mouth-watering soul food recipes courtesy of Delish!
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