In “Soul Food Junkies” Byron Hurt created a vastly entertaining, hilarious, passionate, revelatory and thoroughly researched documentary which examines Soul Food’s significance in Black American culture.
Hurt narrates the project, edited by Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez, via his personal journey. His family members have been avid Soul Food lovers; his mother’s soul food, long been the family’s bonding and social tradition. However, for as long as he remembers, Hurt’s father had been overweight. Hurt grew concerned of his father’s health as he got older; his father’s weight doubled.
While attending college in Boston, Hurt began to change his relationship with food and altered his eating habits to his father’s chagrin, who took offense to Byron’s rejection of sausage and bacon served with breakfast.
His desire to explore Black America’s attachment to Soul Food, its joys and its ills, was further precipitated by his late father’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63. Hurt doesn’t place all the blame on soul food. In fact, the doc makes it clear that modern health problems among Black Americans are most likely caused by America’s economic food class war; organic and healthy foods are not available in many, if not most towns with predominantly African American residents, where organic markets are scarce and fast food joints abound. It’s also an issue of a lack of proper education.
And it’s not just a Black American problem. The doc makes a connection between soul food’s entrance into mainstream society, and slavery – creating and surviving on left-overs, essentially “bottom-feeders” – which is nothing to be celebrated.
Yet, another observation is that while slaves did have to get creative in cooking meals, due to a lack of resources, and thus didn’t always eat the healthiest of foods, they also raised natural, unprocessed crops and animal meat.
The doc has all the elements of a compelling documentary: emotionally-engaging personal story, jaw-dropping statistics on African Americans and health issues, fascinating history of soul food, humorous, candid interviews, but most of all, it’s a very relevant and important subject of undeniable cultural significance. Hurt manages to balance all of these elements superbly, and offers solutions to the issue in order to still enjoy the tradition without compromising health.
The message is clear; it’s not heavy-handed; it allows you to come to your own conclusions. It’s not about “dissing” or demonizing soul food.
It’s actually baffling that this topic hasn’t been tackled with such detail and intelligence before.
The film was actually released in 2013 after a lengthy film festival run; if you haven’t seen it, courtesy of PBS which made it available online, watch “Soul Food Junkies” in full below: