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Byron Hurt's picture

In 2007, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. One of the many factors leading to pancreatic cancer is a high fat, meat-based diet. My father’s diet consisted of both. While I am not certain that my father’s diet alone contributed to his disease, his illness capped off what had been my lifelong concern for him: his health.

From the earliest time that I can remember, my father was overweight. He loved to eat and he particularly loved soul food. He also loved fast food and sugary desserts, like many people do. Growing up, I wanted to be just like my father so I ate what he ate: grits and eggs covered with cheese and topped with bits of salt pork and bacon for breakfast; overcooked collard greens seasoned with ham hocks, fried pork chops, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, or other delicious but fatty foods right out of the black southern tradition.

As an African-American community, we, like most people in this country, consume far too many processed foods that are filled with saturated fats, salt, and sugar. We don’t eat enough vegetables, nor do we get enough exercise. Many of us pay more attention to the grade of fuel we put into our cars than we do the quality of food we put into our bodies. As a category, African-Americans lead the nation in obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. We are killing ourselves slowly with food.

The food that is killing us is not only found in our homes. Junk food -- foods high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar with little to no nutritional value -- can also be found in our children’s schools. And children obtain 35-50% of their calories in school. As a new parent of a girl soon to enter school, my focus to create a healthy community environment has intensified. Education about the perils of poor nutrition is critical as we enter a time where our children are facing diseases historically experienced by middle-aged and elderly adults.

My new film, Soul Food Junkies is my attempt to address this urgent health crisis in communities of color. I wanted to make a film that takes a nuanced look at the complex history of soul food, how it has shaped our cultural identity, black folks’ current eating habits, and how our food choices and lack of access to healthy foods are making us a sick and unhealthy people.

Soul food is a quintessential American culinary tradition that enslaved Africans created out of necessity. My film will not condemn this popular cuisine loved worldwide. Instead, it will examine the health advantages and disadvantages of soul food, and look at how it has helped black people through very difficult times in America. I’ll also examine the lack of access that far too many black people have to quality fruits and vegetables as well as the emerging ‘food justice’ movement that is mobilizing all across the country, including in poor and working class communities.

I hope that you will find that Soul Food Junkies a high-quality, intelligent, and entertaining film that you can watch with your family and friends.

You can watch a short tease of Soul Food Junkies by going to my website,   Also, check out this just released poll showing that eighty percent of American voters support nutritional standards that would limit calories, fat and sodium in snack and a la carte foods sold in U.S. schools and encourage the consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items.

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