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February 21, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Barbecued ribs dripping with sauce, golden-brown fried chicken that leaves smears of grease on the plate and macaroni and cheese so thick and gooey it holds your fork up — this, ladies and gentlemen, is soul food.
“People would say, you know, put a little more grease in it, give it a little more soul,” says Leslie Burl McLemore, former interim president at Jackson State University, in an eye-opening new documentary called Soul Food Junkies.
Where: Jesse Wrench Auditorium, MU Campus
When: Feb. 28, 7 to 20 p.m.
The meals are a traditional part of African-American culture, but proportions, processing and pre-packaging are doing more harm than good. Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s documentary explores the history of the traditional food, its presence in the black community and the results in store for those who frequently indulge.
In the film, Hurt explores why society is celebrating a culture that kills. The documentary, which will show as part of MU’s Black History Month programming, has garnered critical acclaim for its new look at a growing problem. The film was awarded Best Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival and the CNN Best Documentary Award at the American Black Film Festival.
Soul Food Junkies was inspired by Hurt’s father, Jackie, whose health issues were exacerbated by a diet high in fat, sugars and processed foods. Jackie Hurt died at age 63 from pancreatic cancer.
His story isn’t uncommon.
“It’s almost like you eat, you get big, you go to college, you get your education, you get your diabetes, you get your high blood pressure, and you die,” says one woman in Hurt’s film.
Cindy Foley, a registered dietitian and personal trainer, says that the 21st-century approach to food is to blame. “Today it’s a big chunk of meat prepared with that fat, and so you can see that that’s what may have led to ... the bad rap that soul food gets,” she says. “It’s due to our patterns of eating.
“Years ago it probably was quite healthy because of the proportions that they were using. What we know as soul food today ... our proportions have gotten totally out of control.”
Stephanie Shonekan, an event coordinator for MU’s Black History Month, arranged to screen Hurt’s documentary because of soul food’s significant role in African-American culture, which could remedy its unhealthy relationship with food, Foley says.
In low-income communities, healthy food is often hard to come by and expensive where it is available.
The second half of Hurt’s film deals with how socioeconomics factor into food.
“In America, there is a class-based apartheid in the food system,” says Marc Lamont Hill, another one of Hurt’s sources in the film.
Those communities often don’t have grocery stores or fresh-food markets. “You look, and what do you find?” Foley asks. “A few convenience stores. ... You don’t see a lot of fresh fruits and veggies.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic white adults. A 2010 survey by the same department says non-Hispanic whites were 1.4 times less likely to be obese than African Americans.
A diet of foods high in trans fat, sugar and carbohydrates is a major problem. It seems soul food has become an issue that is accepted under the guise that it is just tradition, but the documentary proves otherwise.