Not your mom’s Kraft mac and cheese: Soul food is good for your soul

Jeunee Roberts

The Utah State University men’s basketball game blared on the TV as four USU students lounged on couches, watching. They joked about who was the strongest. The smell of homemade mac and cheese filled the air. A flag bearing the Yik Yak symbol hung on the wall next to a photo of five friends smiling at the camera.

“These girls are my best friends; they’re my family,” said Jeunee Roberts, a graduate student, as she stirred together a thick cheese mix and noodles.

She was making a special soul food mac and cheese recipe which was featured at USU’s Black Student Union’s Soul Food Dinner.

“This is black history month happening right here,” Roberts said, referring to the impromptu gathering that happened at her house once her friends found out that she was baking mac and cheese that night.

This is how they grew up, Roberts said. Somebody is always in the kitchen while others are laughing or watching a game, which is reminiscent of slave times. Dinnertime was one time during the day to be together as a family “for at least one minute,” Roberts said.

The tradition of the family lounging around the living room was not the only thing that was passed down to her. Roberts, who was born in the Caribbean and grew up in New York, learned about the recipe from her mom, who learned it from her mom.

“It’s a family thing,” Roberts said. “You could come home from school knowing there is a hot plate of food waiting for you.”

Now Roberts is an adult, she’s taken on the role of a cook and she regularly feeds her best friends — or her “Logan family.”   

“Everybody knows that my house is the food house,” she said. “They’ll ask ‘Née, you cooking?’”

The answer is always yes.

She said she wishes she could make soul food every day, because soul food — like her mom’s mac and cheese recipe — is the type of food that brings people together.

“Soul food means that you’re about to eat some food that makes you feel fantastic,” she said. “You eat something good, it better touches your soul.”

She said it’s not a meal you eat if you’re on a diet.  

“This segment of the interview just ain’t for you,” Roberts said. “But if you’re not on a diet, feel free to stop by for some of it.”

Soul food is rejuvenating, Roberts said, especially because things “have been crazy” lately. It’s been hard for her to watch the news and see Donald Trump as president and to see people be barred from entering the country based on their nationality.

Regardless of not supporting the conservative political movement, Roberts said progress continues.

She said she’s felt empowered by the millions of people from different walks of life who joined together to make a stand against the president.

“People have become unified in their thoughts,” she said. “People have no choice but to get together and build up.”

Thanks to all of the rallies, it’s perfect time to celebrate Black History Month. For Roberts, Black History Month is a time when she can live in an unadulterated fashion. It gives her the liberation to hold her head even higher, she said

“It’s the best thing for me to be a black female,” she said. “It makes me different. It makes me unique. It makes me loved. It makes me hate it. I’m OK with all of those things. When I look in the mirror, I’m OK.”