Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, ham-dressed collards, cornbread and peach cobbler…even those of us who don’t eat meat or who typically count calories obsessively may find that we have some emotional attachment to these most unhealthy dishes. This cuisine has become an inextricable part of the African-American experience and far too many of our people have created or added to their health woes by indulging in it routinely.

Activist, writer and award-winning filmmaker (Beyond Beats and Rhymes) Byron Hurt is gearing up to release Soul Food Junkies, which examines our community’s relationship with what is usually thought to be Southern cooking. Among the interviewees are Sonia Sanchez, Dick Gregory and Marc Lamont Hill, who laments the fact that the government places warnings and restrictions on certain addictive and dangerous substances, yet the foods that are killing us aren’t as highly regulated: “The reality is, more people are hurting themselves with fried chicken than marijuana. More people are hurting themselves from high cholesterol than from alcohol.”

Hurt recently paid a visit to NPR’s Soundcheck to discuss the film, which is scheduled to be released next year. You can check out the film’s Facebook page and follow Hurt on Twitter for more information.

Clutch fam, what’s your soul food story? Did you grow up eating these foods often or were they saved for special occasions? Was there a Big Mama in your family like the matriarch of the 1997 film who could burn in the kitchen like nobody’s business? My grandmother-who was actually called Big Mama- had ‘sugar’ (diabetes) like the one in the movie, but wasn’t able to get around and cook much by the time I came around…which is much of the reason why my own mom made soul food a special treat, not a weekly ritual or daily menu option. How often do you eat soul food now? Can you cook it? Can we maintain this cultural tradition without allowing it to keep putting us in early graves? Speak!

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  • Genuinesol

    Ladies and gents (if there are any), lets remember that with a few modifications, “soul food” can actually be a healthy cuisine. First, keep in mind that soul food is heavily vegetable base with greens and cabbage being staples that have been proven to be extremely healthy. Chicken can be baked or grilled instead of fried and taste just as well. Yams are very nutritious just go light on the sugar and marshmallows. Eat brown rice that can be used to make red rice with sausage (turkey sausage that is), dirty rice with ground turkey beef and turkey bacon, and rice pilaf. Substitute peach cobbler for deserts that are not as bad such as banana pudding. Now as for macaroni and cheese; that is something that will just have to be eaten in moderation.

    Soul food also involves a lot of legumes (beans and peas) and cornbread and muffins can be made with whole wheat. Soul food is not the problem; it is the way it has been traditionally prepared but, that can changed. As brought out by most of the comments here however, it is up to US to change our habits and even though most do not realize this, just a few simple adjustments, modifications, and increase in physical activity would make us all, and the foods we consume, tremendously healthier.

  • I think you can eat soulfood and still have it be healthy. You just need to know what’s unhealthy so you can make sure not to add it to the menu.

  • Overseas honeybee

    Looking forward to seeing it. I’m from the South (N.C. stand up!!!) and soul food is a big staple of the diet there. Even here in Europe I’m starting to see a few spots open up offering the same type of fare. Moderation and smart choices are key. We “dig our graves with our folks”

  • LainaLan and Rastaman, you’re right. Soul food can be healthy if you replace the diabetes- and asthma-generating ingredients with natural ingredients. For instance macaroni and cheese. I grew up eating this favorite dish and other soul food dishes. My parents are from South Carolina. But I’ve learned if you replace the starchy and dairy ingredients with natural grains and nut-based ingredients you’ll be fine. The next time you cook macaroni and cheese, try spelt elbow macaroni, almond cheeses, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Spelt is an ancient natural grain that doesn’t have the starch content that others do. And almond cheese is a healthier replacement for dairy. How about batters and gravies? Use spelt flour or almond flour instead of bleached or unbleached white flour. Yes, we can do 2 things: eat our beloved soul food in moderation or use healthier ingredients in soul food. For more tips on creative weaning, creative substitution I invite all of you to check out Sojourn to Honduras Sojourn to Healing.

    • EssDot323

      I’d never heard of spelt products before. Thanks for sharing :-)