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How Migration From All Over The World Helped Flavor LA Soul Food

A light brown man holding a coffee cup on the left and a Black man holding a fork on the right, eating at a diner in Inglewood.
How to LA host Brian De Los Santos on left and Christopher Carter at The Serving Spoon, a soul food diner in Inglewood.
(Megan Botel
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As someone who has spent some time in the South, I know my way around some good soul food. But when I did visit my dad’s family out here in L.A. growing up, there was one soul food restaurant I really loved: M&M Soul Food.

The 'Evolved' flavors of LA's Food Scene

There are actually quite a few restaurants in L.A. where you can get a taste of some good Southern cooking. In the latest How to LA podcast episode, my colleague Brian De Los Santos got his grub on with Christopher Carter, a food and racial justice professor and the author of The Spirit of Soul Food, at the Serving Spoon in Inglewood.

While they chowed down on grits and grilled cornbread on a busy day in the restaurant, Carter talked about what makes L.A.’s take on the cuisine unique: migration.

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“Particularly you're talking about people of color because you have indigenous communities that have been here, Latinx communities that are now coming here from other spaces, Black folks that immigrated here in multiple waves and a large broad Asian population,” Carter said. “Particularly if you're a person of color, these communities have had to live together. And so you see these kinds of [food] blends of Korean, Black, Thai and Mexican.”

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Carter said that one of the challenges people have when they're talking about soul food in L.A. is that they don’t usually see it in the offerings of local cuisine. It’s here — it’s just different.

“It has evolved," said Carter. “It's just the nature of what it means to be around and exposed to so many other cultures.”

Carter explained that soul food as a cuisine in this country is an anti-racist response to white supremacy. During the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved Africans brought fruit and vegetable seeds from their countries, hidden in their hair, to grow what was familiar — gourds, okra and watermelon — and married it with foods grown in North America.

As African Americans moved from the South to L.A. during the second wave of the Great Migration, Carter said they looked for a way to preserve their culinary and cultural identity. That's why restaurants like the Serving Spoon, Dulan's, M&M, Mama's Chicken and so many others were started, and are still serving people today.

Read more about the origins of L.A. soul food here. Or you can listen to the latest How to LA podcast episode to learn more. Pro-tip: make sure you get the grilled cornbread if you go to the Serving Spoon!

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below — just keep reading.

We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way.

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Wait... One More Thing

L.A. County Stormwater Capture Program Has A Long Way To Go...Especially With Green Spaces

An image of newly planted trees amid mulch and permeable pavement.
Jackson Elementary School in Altadena after Measure W funding helped the school transform its asphalt yard into a "green schoolyard" with stormwater capture features such as permeable pavement, and more trees. The project was led by non-profit Amigos De Los Rios.
(Courtesy of Amigos De Los Rios)

More than four years after voters passed Measure W, Los Angeles County has made a lot of strides when it comes to water quality and infrastructure. Still, there is a lot more to be done. That's according to a new report from Los Angeles Waterkeeper, a watchdog group that pays attention to things like pollution and how we are managing our water supply.

Projects funded by the tax have been instrumental in helping to save more rain water and not letting it all drain into the ocean. The issue is that a lot of the infrastructure currently doing that work are smaller-to-medium projects and that won't help the county reach its goals, said Mark Gold, a UCLA professor who serves on the Ocean Protection Council at the California Natural Resources Agency. The Tujunga Spreading Grounds and The Dominguez Gap wetland are a few examples of large-scale projects that are working. But the county needs more of them.

There’s also a missed opportunity, the report found, when it comes to creating more green spaces in schools.

Read more about the report's findings from my colleague Erin Stone here.

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