A happy, healthy soul

There’s nothing like food and laughter to strengthen communities and heal maladies. The basement auditorium of the UofC’s Logan Center was peppered with plenty of both on Sunday afternoon for the premiere Chicago screening of “Soul Food Junkies,” a new documentary by filmmaker Byron Hurt about a tasty, filling, and possibly damaging food culture.

The lights dimmed, babies cried, toddlers whined, and let’s be honest, some university students sent a text message or two. But, overwhelmingly, the audience was fully engrossed in the film as they followed Hurt on an undeniably moving journey into the heart of soul food: as culture and comfort, as a means of family bonding, and, most poignantly, as a source of disease.

If Hurt never questioned what or how much he ate as a boy at Sunday morning breakfast with his Pops, he has just the opposite relationship with food systems today.  The film probes the relationship between African American communities and their food at all levels. Promoting healthy eating, Hurt argues, is a question of better education, eliminating food deserts, and developing a will to change the long-standing culture of families and communities.

The panelists seated next to him brought all of those issues back home to the South Side. From urban farming in Bridgeport to online mapping of fast food outlets versus fresh food vendors in Woodlawn, the discussants encouraged a responsive audience to engage in this national issue on a local level. They prod the audience to turn this day of contemplation into enduring action in our very own community.

The hugs exchanged between speakers as they traded positions at the mic resulted in an atmosphere that was light-hearted and jovial, one characteristic of a family reunion enjoying a feast. Panelists such as Dara Cooper, a passionate and animated community health worker, worked to weaken any perceived divide between the realms of health and social justice. “Soul Food Junkies” made it clear that such questions aimed toward the status quo are essential, especially if communities are going to find a way to move forward at a healthy clip without forgetting where they came from.