In 2007, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. One of the many factors leading to pancreatic cancer is a high fat, meat-based diet. My father's diet consisted of both. While I am not certain that my father's diet alone contributed to his disease, his illness capped off what had been my lifelong concern for him: his health.
From the earliest time that I can remember, my father was overweight. He loved to eat and he particularly loved soul food. He also loved fast food and sugary desserts, like many people do. Growing up, I wanted to be just like my father so I ate what he ate: grits and eggs covered with cheese and topped with bits of salt pork and bacon for breakfast; overcooked collard greens seasoned with ham hocks, fried pork chops, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, or other delicious but fatty foods right out of the black southern tradition.
In college, though, I began to slowly change my eating habits after learning more about how to eat healthy. I stopped eating red meat and pork and did my best to avoid greasy fried foods. On weekends, when I came home from college, I began to confront my father about his eating habits, often to no avail. I'd challenge him about his food choices. He'd ridicule me for no longer eating beef or pork. We had several tense conversations about his weight. My family and I were concerned he would one day suffer a heart attack or a stroke. We wanted my dad to live a long, healthy life so he could be here to one day meet his grandchildren. Eventually he would make small changes to his diet and began to exercise more, but unfortunately the changes came too late in his life. Doctors diagnosed him with terminal pancreatic cancer and he died at the young age of 63. He never got a chance to meet his first grandchild.
This is a common story in the lives of many families in this country. As an African American community, we, like most people in this country, consume far too many processed foods that are filled with saturated fats, salt, and sugar. We don't eat enough vegetables, nor do we get enough exercise. Many of us pay more attention to the grade of fuel we put into our cars than we do the quality of food we put into our bodies. As a category, African Americans lead the nation in obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. We are killing ourselves slowly with food.
Soul Food Junkies is my attempt to address this urgent health crisis in communities of color. I endeavor to make a film that takes a nuanced look at the complex history of soul food, how it has shaped our cultural identity, black folks' current eating habits, and how our food choices are making us a sick and unhealthy people.
Soul food is a quintessential American culinary tradition that enslaved Africans created out of necessity. My film will not condemn this popular cuisine loved worldwide. Instead, it will examine the health advantages and disadvantages of soul food, and look at how it has helped black people through very difficult times in America. I'll also examine the lack of access that far too many black people have to quality fruits and vegetables as well as the emerging 'food justice' movement that is mobilizing all across the country, including in poor and working class communities.
About Byron Hurt
Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, a published writer, and a widely respected anti-sexist activist. His most popular documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and was later broadcast on the Emmy award-winning PBS series Independent Lens (drawing an audience of more than 1.3 million viewers).