With several traditions surrounding Juneteenth, it is important for those who are new to the celebration, as well as those who have been long-time observers, to understand and appreciate the meaning and reason behind the traditions. One of the cornerstones of any holiday are the food choices – and for Juneteenth, the most notable are the red foods.
Juneteenth Food History
In the African tradition, red is a color symbolizing power and strength, spirituality, life, and death. Freed slaves drew on the traditions and symbolism of their ancestors to commemorate their newfound freedom in the variety of foods and drinks they consumed at Juneteenth celebrations.
Every culture has its own culinary traditions to be appreciated and celebrated, and the African American culinary journey is special because it was driven by the food choices available to slaves after the end of slavery.
During this time, the only offerings slaves had were “leftovers” or the cuts of meat deemed undesirable, as well as game and vegetables they could procure on their own. This is the bedrock of what is known today as “soul food”: the mastery of making something out of practically nothing.
It is believed that the drinking of red drinks was used to represent the blood that was shed both in captivity and by those who helped achieve the freedom so greatly treasured. Much like the tradition of communion, it was an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made to bring them to where they were.
As the Celebrations Continue
The choice of red food at Juneteenth celebrations is more than just a decorative style choice. It is steeped in tradition and symbolism. As celebrations commence this year and years to come, we hope the cup of red soda water or the red morsel presents an opportunity to reflect on its deeper meaning and symbolism.
For further information on Juneteenth, the origins of soul food, and more, visit: