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Film explores love/hate relationship with soul food

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Oct 19, 2012 - 9:15:55 AM

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Byron Hurt, movie producer and director
(FinalCall.com) - Through the years from collard greens, macaroni and cheese and potato salad to fried chicken, fatback and sweet potato pie, Black America’s dietary indulgence in the cuisine known as “soul food” is both historic and complicated.

In the new documentary “Soul Food Junkies,” filmmaker Byron Hurt examines soul food, its relationship to Black culture and subsequent impact on health. The film also takes a glimpse into the American food industry, shedding light on the food injustices that currently exist in which many of the nation’s poor have limited access to healthier food options.

Inspired by his father’s battle with obesity and health issues, Mr. Hurt’s desire to make a film about Black people’s relationship with food was deeply personal. It was important to tell a story families in the U.S. and abroad who have friends or loved ones struggling with health and nutritional related illnesses and disease could relate to he says.

“I want this film to serve as an inspiration to people to nudge their family members or their loved ones or their friends or co-workers to change their lifestyle or to make modifications to their lifestyle because they could be saving their lives potentially,” Mr. Hurt told The Final Call in an exclusive telephone interview prior to the film’s August 30th premier in New York City.

“I also wanted to share my story because I think that personal stories are very, very powerful. The one thing I did not want to do with this film was to make a film that’s preachy you know. Or that was fingerpointing or that was denigrating my culture or trying to make my culture look bad,” says the award-winning producer whose works include the popular documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.

Several notables make appearances in Soul Food Junkies, offering insightful and serious commentary and the film was also laced with plenty of touches of humor. Long-time activist Dick Gregory, author and commentator Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, poet and scholar Sonia Sanchez, Nation of Islam Student Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad, activist Michaela Angela Davis and sustainable food and agriculture guru Will Allen of Growing Power are just a few making appearances throughout the film.

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Soul Food Junkies analyses the food Blacks consumed during slavery, delves into how food offered a sense of comfort and community during the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and up through modern times.

In the film, How To Eat To Live, the book series written by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the dietary observances of the Nation of Islam is mentioned as both an influence on Mr. Hurt’s desire to eat healthier and he chronicles how the books influenced many Blacks like himself, that are not Muslim.

Placing things within an historical context is very important so that people can have a sense of background and history says Mr. Hurt.

“I also wanted to acknowledge that soul food or Southern food or Southern-styled food did not start here in the South or in America, that it had roots in Africa, Western Africa and it also had roots in the Caribbean. That was really important for me to tell,” he explains.

Mr. Hurt says historical context is an essential element in his films. “I want to sort of unearth facts, historical facts that some people may not have known before. I didn’t want to just make a film that was going to be entertaining for entertainment’s sake. I wanted to make a film that was going to be thoughtful, where people would learn something new, where people would be able to say ‘This is more than what I bargained for when I came to watch this film’”.

Throughout the documentary, Mr. Hurt often reflects on his father and vividly recalls seeing him consume large amounts of fried foods and gaining weight, eventually succumbing to prostate cancer. While he does not totally “blame” his father’s diet for the cancer, Mr. Hurt delves into how diet and illness and disease go hand in hand. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other maladies are preventable ailments most often brought about by overconsumption of a high fat, high sodium diet, the ingredients in many soul food dishes.

While making the film which took Mr. Hurt to all areas of the country, one of the things he says he learned is that people are very defensive and territorial when it comes to what they eat.

“That’s the one goal that I have for this film is to maybe create an audience of people who are now just a little bit more open to considering what it is that they put on their plate, what it is they put into their bodies,” he notes.

Soul Food Junkies will air on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series in January 2013 and was produced by God Bless the Child Productions and Independent Television Service in conjunction with the National Black Programming Consortium.

For more information on Soul Food Junkies and upcoming screenings in a various cities nationwide visit www.facebook.com/SoulFoodJunkies, www.bhurt.com or follow Byron Hurt at twitter.com/byronhurt.