Commentary: Is Healthy Food White People’s Food?

Does turning away from soul food mean you’re not Black enough?

Posted: 01/18/2013 09:35 AM EST

This week, I had the pleasure of watching Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies on PBS. Hurt’s documentary examines our love for soul food and how it potentially could be killing us. By interviewing health experts from around the country, everyday people and his own family members, Hurt provided a nuanced perspective about our connection to what this food means to us.

As a Black health writer, obviously this topic really interests me. 

When it comes to food and our health, we must never lose sight that structural systematic factors such as food deserts, poverty and lack of health insurance to name a few explain why our health is so poor, why we weigh more and why we die sooner than others.

But we also have to take an honest look at our attitudes about the food we eat and what we deem as “white food” vs. “Black food.”  

Healthy vs. unhealthy.

Throughout the film, Hurt discussed his own personal connection and struggles with soul food. His father, who was morbidly obese, loved sausages and mac and cheese and fried chicken. When Hurt went away to college, he began to question the ways his family ate, and he made healthier changes. When he would come home, his new attitude towards food became a sore spot. His father accused him of rejecting his Blackness and of rejecting him.

Another similar experience Hurt captured was when he was visiting Jackson State University during a tailgate party. He came across a group of men who were cooking corn and pig ears in a broth. When they offered Hurt a taste, he was hesitant. A man in the group then asked him was he one-tenth, insinuating that he wasn’t full Black because he didn’t want to eat this food. Because of peer pressure, Hurt ate some of the food.

A cord was struck as I watched these events unfold, especially given that I could relate.

Over the past 15 years in my quest for a healthier lifestyle, there have been plenty of times when family members, friends or acquaintances have questioned my choices and questioned my Blackness for making dietary changes. They would say things like:

— Only white people eat organic. (Which isn’t true at all.)

— Organic food tastes funny. (No, it doesn’t.)

— Only white people drink almond milk. (Actually, more of us should drink almond milk given how many of us, myself included, are lactose intolerant.)

— Only white people are vegan. (Don’t even get me started.)

— Why do you want to lose weight? Do you want to be like a white girl? (No, I just want to get my weight down, so I can live a longer, fuller life.)

And it’s sad because we really should know better.

A person’s Blackness can never be measured in their unwillingness to eat chitterlings. Me wanting to eat more fresh veggies and fruit doesn’t mean I want to be white. Perhaps it means I don’t want for all the diseases that plagues my family to happen to me, or happen this soon in my adulthood.

Thankfully more of us are understanding that “vegetables are soul food” and that being Black shouldn’t equate being unhealthy. But I’ll feel better when the majority of us get that.

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(Photo: Independent Television Service)

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