By Culturekiosque Staff
NEW YORK, 6 MAY 2013 Soul food is a quintessential American
cuisine, with a rich history and an abiding significance for black
cultural identity. But with its celebration of all things fried and
smothered, it has also had lasting effects on the health of African
Americans. In a PBS Independent Lens documentary,
filmmaker Byron Hurt takes a look at soul food: from its roots in
Western Africa to its incarnation in the American South to its
contribution to modern health crises in communities of color. Entitled
Soul Food Junkies and scheduled to air on 20 May (check local
listings), the film also looks at the socioeconomics of the American
diet, and how the food industry profits from making calories cheap, but
healthy options expensive and hard to find.
Byron Hurt grew up eating lots of soul food: grits and
scrambled eggs covered with cheese, buttered biscuits smothered with
gravy, bacon, collard greens seasoned with ham hocks, fried pork chops,
macaroni and cheese, deep-fried chicken, fried fish, barbecue chicken and
ribs, candied yams coated with cinnamon and brown sugar, and other
delicious but fatty foods right out of the black southern tradition.
Photo: courtesy of PBS
Both of his parents are from Milledgeville, Georgia, a small southern
town. Its a place where soul food is beloved by black and white folks
alike. Soul food is a long held culinary tradition passed down from
generation to generation, and is a source of pride for many black people.
Some soul food, depending on how it is prepared, can be good for you. But
when it is cooked with lots of fat, sugar, and salt which is often the
case it can lead to obesity and other health issues.
Hurt can speak from personal experience. From his earliest memories,
his father was overweight, his mom the soul food chef. As an adult,
growing concern about his fathers health prompted Hurt to confront him
about his eating habits, but to no avail. Eventually, his father made
small changes to his diet and began to exercise more, but the changes came
too late in his life. In 2004, doctors diagnosed him with terminal
pancreatic cancer, a virulent disease that disproportionately affects
black people. Statistically, black Americans are more likely to die of the
disease than whites; figures for 2001 to 2005 from the National Cancer
Institute show that blacks had a 32 percent higher death rate. One of the
risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer is a high fat, meat-based
diet. Hurts father died in 2007 at the young age of 63. This is sadly a
common story in the lives of many African American families in the U.S.
losing loved ones too soon from a nutrition-related illness.
Photo: courtesy of PBS
In Soul Food Junkies, Hurt sets out on a historical and
culinary journey to learn more about the soul food tradition and its
relevance to black cultural identity. Through candid interviews with soul
food cooks, historians, and scholars, as well as with doctors, family
members, and everyday people, the film puts this culinary tradition under
the microscope to examine both its positive and negative consequences.
Hurt also explores the socioeconomic conditions in predominantly black
neighborhoods, where it can be difficult to find healthy options, and
meets some pioneers in the emerging food justice movement who are
challenging the food industry, encouraging communities to "go back to the
land" by creating sustainable and eco-friendly gardens, advocating for
healthier options in local supermarkets, supporting local farmers'
markets, avoiding highly processed fast foods, and cooking healthier
versions of traditional soul food.
Soul Food Junkies airs on PBS Television's Independent
Lens in the United States on Monday, 20 May 2013 at 10:30 pm ET
(Check local listings).
click here for 8 Healthy Soul-Food-Inspired Recipes
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