Byron Hurt’s Provocative Soul Food Junkies

Inspired by his own family’s complex relationship with “soul food” — fried chicken, ribs, macaroni and cheese, peach cobbler, and the whole panoply of down-home foods made with grease, sugar, and love — acclaimed filmmaker Byron Hurt asks whether this diet is nurturing or destroying the African American community. With humor and heart, Hurt questions the effects of “soul food” on the health of not only African Americans, but all who guiltily consume this most comforting of American comfort foods.

Food habits and traditions are hard to change, especially when they’re passed on from generation to generation and rich with family history and loving memories. Leaving behind the food you grew up with can seem like a rejection of family values and roots. In Soul Food Junkies, Byron Hurt (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes) shares his journey from his New Jersey home through the South to learn more about African American soul food and its long-term effects on the community.

Hurt’s journey was inspired by his father’s unwillingness to give up his high-fat, calorie-laden traditional soul food diet, even in the face of a life-threatening health crisis. Although he’s been able to improve his diet and stay in shape, Hurt discovers that the love affair that his Dad and others have with soul food is deep-rooted, complex, and often deadly.

Through candid interviews with soul food cooks, historians, and scholars, as well as doctors, family members, and everyday people, Soul Food Junkies reveals how the American culinary tradition of “southern” food began in West Africa, spread throughout the Americas during slavery, and was coined “soul food” in the late 1960s during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. The film also shows how the profit-driven fast food and processed-food industry, have replaced traditional home cooked meals more and more. This, along with the dwindling number of markets featuring fresh produce in many communities of color, has negatively impacted African American health.

But change is in the air. Faced with increasing obesity and rising diabetes rates, an emerging food justice movement is taking root: dynamic and passionate individuals are challenging the food industry, encouraging communities to “go back to the land” by creating sustainable eco-friendly gardens, advocating for healthier options in local supermarkets, supporting local farmer’s markets, avoiding highly processed fast foods, and cooking a healthier version of traditional soul food.

To learn more about the film, visit the companion website for Soul Food Junkies. Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a Talkback section, where viewers can share their ideas and opinions.

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