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Monday, 30 July 2018

Review: Soul Food Junkies (2012)

Soul Food Junkies
2012
Genre: Documentary

Synopsis: To many African-Americans, soul food is sacrament, ritual and a key expression of cultural identity. But does this traditional cuisine do more harm to health than it soothes the soul?  







'Foodie Documentary That Doesn't Preach'

Soul Food Junkies isn't just about food: the food part is just one component that makes up for the other aspects and issues of this topic. Come courtesy of Byron Hurt, he unpacks the historical roots and significance of soul food, how it is important to African-Americans, but also as well as how it ties into their culture, this same thing is also a negative thing from a health standpoint as it looks at the implications of the consumption of soul food and what could be done to improve people's well-being, in general. 

The film doesn't shy away from the issues and worries raised, particularly those that are health-related, but at the same time, it tries to offer solutions without having to force-feed the audience and shoving it down my throat, just for the sake of it.  

Hurt manages to confront both the impact of Black culture, African-American and Southern cuisine and cooking and how he sees it, in light of his father's death by pancreatic cancer. Baffled by his dad's unwillingness to change his eating habits, he goes on to examine more about this tradition and its relevance to Black and African-American cultural identity.

Is it good for you?, Why is it so important to Black identity? And can something that has cultural and ethnic roots - yet is high in cholesterol, fat and calories, be a bad thing, altogether? These are some of the points raised that Hurt does well in addressing and with that, Soul Food Junkies offers some solutions, but at the same time, it doesn't try to outright say that this is completely bad for you and people should stop eating it. The thing is, here, it is more to do with consumption than anything else really. That's always been my relationship with food. It's that a little of what you fancy is a good thing and as long as it is all in moderation, that is never a bad thing.

For many Blacks in America, and those living in the Southern regions, things like fried chicken, Black-eyed peas, collard greens, mac and cheese, pigs feet, mashed potato, yams, corn and biscuits (known here in the UK as scones, I think) are an integral part of their culture and history. Much like rice, roast duck, noodles are to Chinese culture and history. Food has always been ingrained in various ethnic and global cultures. It is the staple of life. On the flip side to that, soul food is fried, cooked and slathered in so much grease and fat, yet how do you make it healthier and that it still tastes great too? Well, you can.
  
Soul Food Junkies weeds into the anthropological, as well as cultural, health and social ramifications of soul food and how the eating habits of Hurt's own family, as well as other African Americans, are tied in with Black culture & the lack of accessibility to organic markets & places that sell fruit, vegetables, fresh fish makes it all the more difficult. It also discusses how veganism and by being a vegetarian, that has been often associated with Whites and that Black Vegans, as represented by one of them in this film, s/he can see the health implications this has in the Black community. I was intrigued to learn that rejection of deep-fried, salted, fatty foods is perceived by some, or many as a rejection of their culture, of slavery and blackness, which is very much rooted in the stigmas and ideologies that such a notion as this, are presented. By nourishing yourselves and others having to fight and survive, whilst living on a diet of what is 'pauper' food or food that people on a low income could only afford, it becomes a means of survival in itself. If you don't eat enough, you'll starve and die.


Hurt doesn't alienate or side with anyone, or anything. The PBS documentary doesn't demonise or preach to one faction or another, it's not about rejecting one's culture or heritage completely. It's about how to take something that many people enjoy, but also find ways to embrace it through healthier means and without having to compromise and nullifying it. Bake more and fry less, incorporate more vegetables into the recipes, consuming fried chicken less often, as well as educating and informing kids on healthier food choices. 


Final Verdict:

Soul Food Junkies provides plenty of food for thought for viewers, but also as complex and multi-faceted as this subject is, Byron Hurt's approach remains firmly grounded, delicate and easy-going, without being heavy-handed and bombarding the viewer with constant facts and figures & data, as he makes it easier for the viewer to digest. The result is one that is thought-provoking and one that also gives people an insight into what soul food entails and its significance, both in a good way and a bad way. 

As documentaries on food and culture go, this is another one worth seeing. 



Overall:

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