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Soul Food: A Community at Risk and Everyday Practices of Health and Wellbeing in an African-American Family

Kristin Elizabeth Yarris


Aron Kifle

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 94


How do families live within communities in chronic states of crisis, making sense of violence and meaning from disruption? In contexts of community hardship and racial inequalities, how do parents configure family life to protect children and foster values? Further, how are everyday family routines, practices, and engagements, shaped so as to support specific notions of health and wellbeing? In this paper, we respond to these questions drawing on data from the Patterson family, an African-American family of four living in South Los Angeles, and one of thirty-two participant families in the Center on Everyday Lives of Families study. Drawing primarily on interview and video data, here we propose that the Patterson parents use everyday routines, most notably family meals, as resources to support family health and wellbeing. In particular, the notion of soul food becomes a central interpretive framework through which to understand this family’s understanding of the risks inherent in living in a community in crisis. Furthermore, by examining how the Pattersons both talk about and enact the preparation and consumption of family meals, we argue that they use these everyday family routines and practices in order to mitigate those risks, crafting a sense of connection with a racial past and resilience in the face of present dangers, supporting the value of family togetherness and continuity, and fostering a particular conception of family health and wellbeing in the home.

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