The hyperbolic sensationalism of Stanley Crouch’s article “Soul Food is Killing Black America” is laughable on its face. And the initial silliness I felt when reading the title was solidified by the nickname Crouch gave the filmmaker who is developing the soul food documentary – “Braveheart”. Just call me “Chuckles”, then. Because this is the funniest and most self-negating piece of trite I’ve read all week.
First, the notion that filmmaker Byron Hurt is somehow brave for “tackling” an issue which has been addressed a multitude of times is just daft. Wasn’t the movie “Soul Food” based on the Sunday coalescing of black folks around a table of collard greens, fried chicken, corn bread, and ham hocks? And didn’t untreated diabetes kill Big Mama?
It seems that Crouch is nicknaming Hurt Braveheart not because he’s actually brave, but because Hurt’s assessment of the ills affecting the black community matches Crouch’s own assessment. We tend to view the people who agree with us as somehow braver and smarter than the people with whom we disagree. In this way, Crouch has fallen victim to a trap laid by his own ego.
But the larger issue is whether Crouch is right about soul food being kryptonite to Negroes. Crouch laments, “This is a common problem. There is no joke in the film about the frightening degrees of black illness from consuming too much ethnic food dripping in grease and containing too much fat, sugar and butter. Worst of all, people consume too many ethnic imitations in fast food places that are so prevalent in black and Latin neighborhoods.”
Maybe that’s true, but even if it is, that seems more an issue of moderation than anything else. And if black people are consuming too many “ethnic imitations”, then the issue African Americans face is the same issue that all Americans face; limiting our intake of processed foods. Again, this is not a black thing. It’s not even a soul food thing. It’s about eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, and it’s probably also about leading sedentary lifestyles – an issue not addressed in Crouch’s article.
Additionally, in recent years several soul food restaurants have cropped up to meet the needs of African Americans who prefer less fat or even vegetarian alternatives to traditional soul food. But even at its worst, soul food is a rich part of our history and if eaten in moderation and prepared with organic meats and veggies, it can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.
Is the soul food slathered in hog grease good for us? Of course not. But I doubt authentic Italian cuisine is actually good for you, what, with all its richness, creams, butter sauces and pastas, but you don’t see Italians making documentaries about how bad Italian food is or how stupid Italians are for eating it.
Soul food is not a problem for black America but self-negation, especially the variety espoused by Crouch and “Braveheart”, is debilitating. Not every issue that negatively impacts black people can be pigeon holed as a black issue. Now, we can of course discuss the issue of alleviating the health consequences of poor diets by doing things that work, such as adding to our dietary choices by creating permaculture gardens and sustainable communities, but those are real issues that require real thinkers. I suppose it’s much easier to grab headlines by insinuating that black people are just too stupid or too lazy to sort the good food from the bad. “Put down that chicken wing and grape soda!” Yeah. OK.