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Loyola owes no apologies for serving up soul food and Kool-Aid at dining hall

A sign at Loyola's Damen Dining Hall encouraged students to "try our African American cuisine popular in the African American community." | @melaninroses/Twitter

On this day in Black History, let the record show, I drank grape Kool-Aid. Blue raspberry, orange and even red were among my favorites growing up on the West Side.

And nothing ever came closer to heaven than washing down Mama’s garlic-fried chicken with a sweaty mayonnaise jar of ice-cold Kool-Aid. But maybe I’m just ghetto fabulous. Call me what you will. Just don’t call me thirsty.

Collard greens seasoned with smoked ham hocks and a healthy heaping of candied sweet potatoes with warm sweet buttered cornbread and a pile of black-eyed peas was to die for. Throw in some of Grandmother’s peach cobbler for dessert and it was all good.

That’s why the recent brouhaha at Loyola University, where a “Black History Month” dining hall meal — replete with (God forbid) fried chicken, maple mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens and “black eye peas salad” — was served, has left me scratching my head. Oh, and apparently stirring the pot? The offering of grape Kool-Aid.

Huh? Don’t white folks drink Kool-Aid too? Hey, Kool-Aid!

OPINION

I’m sorry. But here’s one ghetto boy who thinks that maybe they doth protest too much.

Is this what it has come to in a hypersensitive, politically correct world, where even fried chicken and Kool-Aid offend? Don’t we as black folks truly have bigger fish to fry?

Growing up, I never saw this as “black food” or poor man’s food. Just food. Sustenance.

Poor food would be the ketchup sandwiches when our cupboard was barren that my sister and I embraced as a treat. Or it would be the hot-water cornbread that filled our bellies.

It would be the potato patties Mama lovingly created in the kitchen out of the necessity of feeding her children on our poorest days. Stirring mashed potatoes, Mama seasoned them with pepper, salt and diced onions, then placed them in a hot skillet.

I loved those potato patties that crunched and melted in our mouths. Years later, I still embrace the memory of something I was once ashamed to tell friends had been my supper while I imagined they had all munched fried chicken and all the trimmings.

But I am not ashamed. Not today. Not for the meager nature of the food Mama could provide. Not ashamed of where I come from. Not diminished as an educated middle-class black man by so-called poverty food in some people’s eyes that is soul food in others’ — in mine.

Soul food — sometimes born in hardship or times of lack. Food stewed in the culture of a people with seasonings as rich as memories. Food that served as the starch of our lives with its varying tastes and textures — sweetened or spiced and specially prepared in ways that made it edible or that transformed it into a delicacy.

Soul food — which still stands as a reminder of where I come from and who I still am.

I love soul food.

I later learned that some black folks are ashamed of it — keenly aware of prevailing negative stereotypes about what black folks eat, worried about being ridiculed for it.

The dining vendor at Loyola reportedly apologized for any offense or insensitivity and said the display was meant to be a celebration of the culture of their employee who conceived of the idea and who happens to be African-American. A celebration — nothing to be ashamed of.

Hmmm … Sagging young men, foul-mouthed rappers and forgetting where we come from. Now those are things to be ashamed of. Not the food that enriched us.

I’m sorry that some of us just don’t get that, even on this day in Black History.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com