The Daily Grind Video

There is nothing, and I mean nothing more comforting than a plate full of macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and fried chicken.

Hungry yet?

Problem is, I haven’t had most of those items since I made a conscious effort to change my family history of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity and switch to a mostly plant-based diet. So, while I’m hurting because I can almost taste all of those flavors melding together on a plate (and believe me, it can be miserable), I know the dangers that my traditionally prepared food might bring.

But that’s my soul food. That comfort food. And known to some as that “slave or death” food.

And nobody knows those dangers first-hand like documentary filmmaker, Byron Hurt. His own father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, obesity and poor health, which promted him to research what these traditionally prepared foods did to our bodies. He sat down with GlobalGrind to talk about his 2012 film, Soul Food Junkie how the Southern cuisine became synonymous with African-American identity, and what we must do to change the relationship with these foods in order to save our communities.

GlobalGrind: What’s the most interesting thing you learned about traditional soul food?

Byron: Most of it is actually healthy for you. Most traditional soul food dishes are healthy depending on how you prepare them and how you cook them. This film isn’t throwing soul food out with the bath water, but instead it’s trying to inspire people and encourage them to take the best of our culinary tradition and prepare it in healthier ways so we can live healthy and longer lives.”

But eating soul food isn’t the whole problem?

Soul food is just a jumping off point to have a larger converstaion on food and its impact on our bodies, as well as the access we have to healthy foods in our communities. It’s about so much more than soul food.

Ok, so what foods do we need to cut out?

What’s bad? Sugary desserts, foods friend in fats and high in salt, highly sweetened ice tea. Those are some of the things. But to be fair, people don’t eat this stuff every day. But people do hold on to it.”

And what should we be encouraging our families to eat?

“Kale, mustard greens, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes. There’s a difference between boiling or baking a sweet potato or making it with brown sugar and lots of butter and marshmallows, you’re actually killing all of the nutrients and overcookng it. We need to incorporate more live and healthy vegetables…nutrient-rich vegetables.

So doing these things will prevent heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity?

A lot of that is not solely attributed to soul food, there’s also an over abundance in processed foods in working class black and brown communities. Accesibility to healthy foods is just as important as preparing our food differently than we have historically.

And while tradition and accessibility are both huge factors in why we eat food high in fat content, so are our taste buds and our family. Hurt isn’t a stranger to how hard it is to stop eating the foods you love, and he’s also no stranger to the feeling of abandonment that comes when you alone decide to follow a different diet than your family. 

Watch Soul Food Junkies this evening at 10:30PM EST to see how Hurt humorously but effectively explores black identity and soul food… and what we must do if we want to live longer, healthier lives.