Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Healthy Soul Food

See here for my latest piece in the Globe, on the new wave of healthy eating in Boston's African-American communities.

One of the most interesting things about the movement is that, while there's a lot of new energy around these issues, it isn't coming from nowhere. Of course I couldn't tell the whole story in 800 words, so here's a peak at some of the historical context that didn't quite fit. Special thanks to cultural historian Fred Opie for his help.

Morris and other advocates of improving African American cuisine are part of a legacy largely born out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's and 70's. One of the most well known participants of that era is comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who is still active today and whose feelings on un-healthy soul food are quite clear and quite negative.

In his book "Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature," he wrote: "I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a people is to put them on a soul food diet."

Gregory was famous for promoting awareness about nutrition and hunger by running daily marathons while consuming nothing but water, juice and a personalized kelp based supplement blend he dubbed "Formula X."

Faith-based sources for nutritional reform include the food laws of Rastafarianism known as Ital (from "vital") and the dietary guidance of the Nation of Islam, whose former leader Elijah Muhammad wrote a two-volume series titled "How to Eat to Live." The effects of such rhetoric are still felt today. In the hip-hop community, rappers such as Busta Rhymes and Gift of Gab have often written on the topic of avoiding pork: "fly cuisine food poisoned cause you eatin' the swine" (Rhymes).

Inspired by figures such as Gregory, whom Opie dubs "food rebels," many African Americans have begun to regard what they thought was their traditional cuisine with skepticism. In "Hog and Hominy," Opie references a 1981 Black Collegian article saying African Americans believed they were eating "native food, but it is nothing more than slave food. Add to this slave food the chemicalized, refined, sugary, fast, convenience foods of our modern society and you have quite a deadly combination."

According to Opie, the African American diet hit its low point not during slavery but with the highly processed foods available today.

Again, the article: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2009/05/13/rediscovering_and_reinventing_food_for_the_soul/

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