My fighter of a father survived a massive stroke but lost his life to a heart attack. He was in his early sixties. My beloved stepfather died 11 months after my father, again, of a heart attack. He was in his late sixties. They both also, fought, and lost their battles against unhealthy habits–a combination of smoking and heaping helpings of some of their favorite, unhealthy foods.
In his partly autobiographical documentary, Soul Food Junkies, Byron Hurt investigates African-Americans’ attachment to food traditions, and challenges his audience to take a closer look at those relationships. He returns to his own father's death, made premature by what he speculates was overeating brought on by deep depression.
Junkies isn't all blues. Hurt offers a sometimes hilarious look at our affinity to foods like fried chicken, fat-flavored collard greens, and fried pork chops despite the knowledge that these foods increase risks for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, stokes, heart disease and obesity.
What's no laughing matter are the alarming statistics that predict that this generation of young people can expect to die sooner than their parents. African-American children suffer from obesity at a greater rate than white children. There are many complex factors that contribute to this epidemic. But one factor, junk foods sold in schools, is being tackled by parents nationwide. The USDA recently issued proposed nutritional guidelines on food sold in vending machines and à la carte lines. And a study by Kids' Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that parents nationwide broadly support the creation of strong guidelines.
The organization I work with, MomsRising.org, is committed to food justice for our children and families. We believe in mothers uniting to take back control of our kids' nutrition and of our family health. We believe that together we can break down the structural barriers that are keeping everyone from having access to healthy foods. Mothers voices together can have an incredible impact on everything from making sure healthier foods are served and available in schools, to making sure vending machines have nutritious options, to passing laws to support childhood nutrition, as well as to limiting the junk food marketing that's aimed at our children.
As part of this work, MomsRising is organizing Food Power Conferences in Detroit and Brooklyn, NY as a way for food justice activists, food bloggers, parents and anyone considering creative solutions to the enormous problem facing our families to share ideas.
"This work feels personal since most of us know someone who has suffered from a life-threatening disease brought on by poor food choices,” said Monifa Bandele, a MomsRising campaign director.
“The conference will also provide an opportunity for community members and experts working in the field of nutrition to network, and learn about the latest developments on school foods, food marketing to kids, and children’s access to healthcare,” said Bandele.
Celebrated based food justice activist Tanya Fields is one of the keynote speakers at Food Power Conference. But you don't need experts to start to organize in your own community, wherever you are. The first step is deciding, literally, that you've had enough.
If you happen to be in the Brooklyn area, the Food Power conference is Sat. March 2, 11 AM – 3 PM at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott 333 Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY. The free event is open to the public. Soul Food Junkies will be screened! REGISTER HERE.