"Is African American culture a culture of soul food junkies?"
Food traditions are hard to change, especially when they're passed on from generation to generation. In this PBS documentary, award-winning filmmaker Byron Hurt shares his journey to learn more about the African American cuisine known as soul food.
Baffled by his dad's unwillingness to change his traditional soul food diet in the face of a health crisis, Hurt sets out to learn more about this rich culinary tradition and its relevance to black cultural identity. He discovers that the love affair that his dad and his community have with soul food is deep-rooted, complex, and in some tragic cases, deadly.
Through candid interviews with soul food cooks, historians, and scholars, as well as doctors, family members, and everyday people, Soul Food Junkies blends history, humor, and heartwarming stories to place this culinary tradition under the microscope. Both the consequences and the benefits of soul food are carefully addressed. So too is the issue of low access to quality food in black communities, which makes it difficult for some black people to eat healthy. In the end, Hurt determines whether or not black people are addicted to this food tradition that has its origins in West Africa and the black south, yet is loved all over the world.
Director's Statement: Why Am I Making Soul Food Junkies?
In 2004, doctors told my father he had pancreatic cancer. One of the many factors leading to this disease 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 to eat 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.
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
My next film, 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.
If you agree that this is an important discussion that needs to take place in our community, then I need your help. You can help complete this film by making a donation to the Soul Food Junkies film project today. I have a track record of success as an independent filmmaker and I intend to make Soul Food Junkies a high-quality, intelligent, entertaining film.
How Will I Use Your Donation?
Monies raised via this online drive will be allocated for:
- on-line editing
- motion graphics
- color correction
- sound design and audio mix
How Far Along is Soul Food Junkies?
We are almost done (85%)! Right now we have a 54-minute rough cut of the film and are working on completing the fine cut, before locking picture, and going into final post-production.
When Will This Documentary Be Complete?
My goal is to complete Soul Food Junkies by January 2012. A successful Kickstarter drive will make this is an achievable goal.
Soul Food Junkies Team
- The Independent Television Service
- The Ford Foundation
- Executive Producer: Stanley Nelson (award-winning filmmaker)
- Associate Producer: Lisa Durden
- Editor: Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez
- Cinematographers: Bill Winters, Kevin Chung, Alessandro Rafenelli, Arthur Jafa, Sekou McGlothin
- Music: Kathryn Bostic; dead prez
- Firelight Media's Producer's Lab
- Public Relations and Marketing: AKILA WORKSONGS, Inc.
- (45 days)