Filmaker Byron Hurt’s documentary, Soul Food Junkies, premiered last night on PBS (check your local listing for dates and times). Now, when I first heard the title of the documentary, I was less than enthusiastic about checking it out. I assumed it was going to be another one of those films that talked about all the hot spots where you can get some good ol’ soul food. But after watching the trailer, I realized that Hurt was taking a completely different (and slightly radical) approach to this particular film. Hurt was inspired to create this documentary based off of his personal experiences and the intricate relationship he and his own family had with soul food. This film is way more than just discussing the goodness of fried chicken, collard greens, sweet potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, and chitterlings. It digs deeper into the history of African American soul food and the effects it can potentially have on our health.
The film is an eye-opener in so many ways. There were several parts where I was laughing (when he was bullied into eating turkey neck, then admitting how delicious it was, pork juice and all), and still some more that I was getting choked up (when he discusses his father losing his battle with pancreatic cancer). It’s real and it forces the issues surrounding health and wellness amongst African Americans.
Several questions are explored such as whether or not his father’s death was a result of his deep love of soul food? Is soul food really “death food” as proclaimed by Dick Gregory? Do fried foods increase your risk of exposure to carcinogens? Hurt does an exceptional job of exploring all of these questions and more by speaking candidly with health professionals, family members, cooks, scholars, and everyday people off the street…or tailgating at the Jackson State football game.
This film also takes a peek inside the issues regarding a lack of health food options available within lower income communities. One woman stated that “the vegetables look like they’re having a nervous breakdown because they are so shriveled up (speaking about the food options in her local grocery store).” Her analogy amused and infuriated me all at the same time. They then go on to discuss the fact that depriving African Americans from having access to healthy foods, is an example of 21st century genocide. Most people are forced to buy pre-packaged and processed foods. There is talk about the large disparity between lower income communities and higher income communities when it comes to having access to healthier food options.
My husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure in his early twenties. He’s never been overweight in his lifetime. However, he grew up in a Haitian household with soul food regularly prepared. When he moved out on his own at the age of eighteen, he did what any young man does at this age who doesn’t know how to cook: stock up on pre-packaged, processed, and ridiculously high-in-sodium foods. For several years, he lived off of frozen pizzas, burritos, pastas, and steak-umm sandwhiches. In trying to identify the cause of his high blood pressure, he decided to give up red meat three years ago since the blood pressure medication did nothing to decrease his numbers.
When he still didn’t see any change in his high blood pressure last year, he decided to take drastic matters into his own hands…he became an overnight vegan. This is probably one of the biggest challenges he has had to face. But it’s also been a challenge for me as well in learning how to alter my cooking habits (heck, I had finally learned how to make his momma’s mac n’ cheese and sweet potatoes!). But now, with restaurants like Everlasting Life Café, we can enjoy (and learn to make) a healthier version of soul food. As Hurt mentioned changing his eating habits and wanting to be around for his future grandkids, I want my husband to be around for ours too.
BMWK: If you haven’t had an opportunity to catch Soul Food Junkies, check out the sneak peek here. For those of you who tuned in to watch, are you a soul food junkie?