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Tradition, Change & A New Manifesto of Soul

Today marks the final day of Black History Month and a great time to reflect on media sparking conversations around the foodways of the African Diaspora. 

Byron Hurt's Soul Food Junkies premiered to national audiences on PBS last month, sparking a new chapter in an ongoing debate about the role that African American foodways play, for better or worse, in defining, shaping, and informing our experiences as a community.  The weeknight showing was accompanied by lively Twitter commentaries in which scholars, historians, bloggers, and foodies across the nation all weighed in with their reactions to the film and the larger questions around what we should do with Soul Food: respect and accept it as tradition, reenvision it from a plant based perspective to make it more modern and therefore more healthy, or leave it alone and let those who wish to eat it suffer the inevitable and well documented consequences: countless studies have demonstrated what many African Americans identify as traditional Soul Food - meat centric, heavily salted dishes whose most prominent examples include stews based on pork fat, deep fried fish and poultry, BBQ, macaroni and cheese, sugar laden sweet tea, pies, and cakes -  are linked to high incidences of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and pancreatic cancer,  the same illness that claimed Mr. Hurt's late father, whose death prompted him to begin asking the questions around African American foodways that form the basis of this documentary. 

In the film, Mr Hurt travels the nation and the South, searching for insight into the role that Soul Food plays in the cultural life and identity of both African American communities and the whole of the nation.  Throughout, he speaks to individuals who acknowledged that while the eating habits held dear by many are unhealthy, eating Soul Food is an expression of cultural identity and solidarity that many can not dream of living without.  What Mr. Hurt heard, over and over again, is that for many African Americans, Soul Food occupies a role of central cultural importance, is a commonly shared language, a living expression of creativity, ingenuity, and practicality that defines who we are like nothing else quite does: to eat these foods, according to activist Micheala Angela Davis, is to be Black.

Read Shannon's entire piece here.

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