By Ron Wynn
Filmmaker Byron Hunt’s new film “Soul Food Junkies,” part of the “Independent Lens” series, explores the growth and popularity of those foods popularly known as “soul food” within the Black community. It also examines their impact on the disproportionate rate of such disease as diabetes and hypertension among African-Americans.
Hunt’s documentary was shown last Saturday at the Nashville Public Library as part of the ongoing series of public films and forums co-sponsored by ITVS
Community Cinema in conjunction with Nashville Public Television. The event also included an extensive Q&A with special guests author Alice Randall, author/CEO Carol Batey and health & nutrition coach Dawn Freeman. Hunt said during the opening moments of his film he made it because of the memories he had regarding his father, who battled obesity all his life and died before he ever had the opportunity to see his grandchild. He loved the things commonly known as “soul food,” and never was able to get his weight under control or deal with subsequent health issues caused by his diet.
“Soul Food Junkies” also explores such issues as “food deserts,” neighborhoods and communities where it is virtually impossible to purchase or find healthy foods, the necessity of eating more fruits and vegetables, and alternatives in the preparation of soul food that allows those who enjoy it to still consume it without so much concern about possible links to disease.
Hunt also visited soul food restaurants in other cities, looked at the growing number of people who are growing their foods in gardens, and discussed how much the obesity epidemic was affecting people’s desires to find healthier ways of eating.
A panel discussion afterwards focused on alternatives, education and dietary regimen. Author Alice Randall, whose latest book “Ada Rules” discusses healthy eating within a framework of other related items like self-esteem and wellness, said many Black women don’t understand body types are different for them, and that being unnaturally skinny isn’t necessarily healthy either. The issue Randall said involves knowing how to prepare your food, and combining dietary resolve with exercise and good judgment. “I’ve lost more than 80 pounds through just exercising, watching how I prepare my food and continuing a program of working out and maintaining my health,” Randall said. “You’ve also got to avoid things like processed sugar in soft drinks and many of the things that really aren’t soul food, but are called that by the media. Our people didn’t have these incidences of obesity in the past due to collard greens and the other things that they used. A lot of this is the result of modern items playing a role in the preparation of food.”
Carol Batey said she initially was ridiculed by family members when she began a program of healthy eating. “But my determination to do it was also about my own health and survival, “Batey said. A Cancer survivor and author of multiple books, Batey’s current company “Good Vibrations” deals with the ramifications of changing dietary habits as part of an overall health and wellness makeover program. “I became a model in my ’50s because I lost so much weight and also my entire attitude changed towards life,” Batey added.
Dawn Freeman, a health and nutrition coach added many people are beginning to develop their own food sources via gardens. “The problem with healthy eating sometimes is that folks think you have to spend a lot of money or constantly eat and shop in expensive stores. You can do it on your own with gardens, or you can just buy more fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s not necessary to go into debt to be healthy.”
All three speakers blamed media obsession with such items as soft drinks, sweets and processed foods as partly responsible for the obesity problem. They also said in many instances when children are informed early about the importance of good nutrition they frequently put pressure on parents to change their habits.
The next film in the series will be “The Powerbroker,” a look at the life and times of Whitney Young, Jr., the longtime executive director of the Urban League. It will be shown at the library Feb. 16 at 3 p.m., once more at the downtown Nashville public library.