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Walker 1Hyeisha WalkerAllison SchuverEng102-02306 April 2012 Soul Food: The Link Between African Americans and Obesity Approximately 60 percent of all African Americans areoverweight.Andapproximately 13 percent of all African Americans have diabetes(Bailey, 6).That is a relatively large portion of people. A major contributor toobesity as a whole is diet. In the African American community soul food in auniversal concept. Soul food consists of greasy high fat dishes and could very wellbe a major contributor to the drastic number of obese African Americans. A largeportion of the African American community has been affected by the obesityepidemic, because of the type of high fat, high cholesterol, and low in nutritionfood they have been consuming as a culture for centuries. Monique Angela Hicksbetter known as Mo’Nique is a plus size comedian and an Academy Awardwinning actress. Mo’Nique is well known to the African American populationfrom her roles on the BET series The Parkers and her leading role in the moviePhat Girls. Mo’Nique declared big to be beautiful and skinny women to be evil inher book, “Skinny Women are Evil.” She boasts about the foods she loves themost; particularly her love for soul food. Mo’Nique’s proclamation indicates the
Walker 2African American culture will remain obese and continuously have healthproblems if they continue with this mind set. “African American heritage cooking exemplifies the historical trajectory ofblacks in America” (Mitchell, 1). Over the years the African American race as awhole is known for their strength and ability to adapt in different environments.From the time Africans arrived here in America through slavery they began toadapt to their new environment by learning how to obtain food. Their dietsprimarily consisted of cornmeal, buttermilk porridge, and occasionally meats andgreens. As the African Americans became more familiar with their newsurrounding and began to exchange traditions and ideas with slaves from otherregions; they began gardening as a major source of their food. Although what wasgrown in these gardens was region specific a typical garden in the south consistedof: black eyed peas, sesame seeds, okra, and collard greens (Mitchell,11). Afterthe Civil War when a lot of African Americans moved up north, food changedagain. Up north it became a lot easier for African Americans to obtain food andbetter quality food at that. Fried chicken became a major staple in the AfricanAmerican diet and they capitalized off of it. They began selling it to passengers ontrains. Another very important food component was the sweet potatoe, it wasfound in the diets of people in all different regions (Dirks,1). These two foodsalone are the foundation of what is considered soul food. There are hundreds of Soul food dishes. As well as hundreds of differentvariations of those dishes. An example of typical Soul food meal was depicted
Walker 3very well in the movie Soul Food. In this film the family sat down for familydinner every Sunday and their meal consisted of fried chicken, macaroni andcheese, collard greens, short ribs, black eyed peas, rice, candied yams, cornbread,apple pie, sweet potatoe pie and egg custard. This is a lot of food, so not only isthere a portion size issue, just about everything is high fat, high cholesterol, andgreasy. If this kind of meal was consumed every day, or even once a week therewould be serious consequences as far as their health is concerned. In the film SoulFood the mother of the family was the one who cooked the meal every Sunday andmade sure everyone got together, she also had really bad diabetes. Her doctorsasked her to change her diet and take her medication and she did not follow theirorders. As a result she had a massive stroke and ultimately lost her life. Althoughthis is a fictional story, it is a very real situation that happens all the time in theAfrican American community. The potential health risks associated with obesity are as follows:Hypertension, Gallbladder disease, Osteoarthritis, Cancer, Cardiovascular disease,Diabetes, Stroke, and Sleep Apnea (Hopkins, 11). African Americans are almosttwice as likely to be obese then White Americans; this means African Americansneed to be even more careful with what they eat and how they exercise. “And, ofcourse, their national branding comes with a host of deadly side effects: heartdisease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain kinds of cancer”(Egan). Dr. Daryl Ellissaid, “Although our ancestors consumed
Walker 4the same kinds of food that we consume now, their level of activity was muchgreater then it is today. So the consumption of these high fat meals and oursedimentary lifestyles are major contributors to the obesity epidemic among theAfrican American community.” Dr. Ellis’ practice is in Phoenix City, Alabama,predominantly low income area and he says majority of his patients areoverweight and suffer from weight related diseases. He also says that a lot of thesecases could be reversed if the patient cut back on the amount of Soul foodconsumed and did more physical activity.“People living in poor societies todayswim in a sea of redundant calories. Food is everywhere, and it is relativelyinexpensive, accounting for about 10 percent of Americans’ disposable income onaverage, Dr. Nestle said in an interview” (Brody). It is important to educate the African American community about thepotentially negative effects of consuming large amounts of Soul Food. With thisbeing said we must look deeper and consider the underlying issues behind thisproblem. Soul food really has a deeper significance to the African Americancommunity then just food. Soul food has been said to have, connected AfricanAmericans across a spectrum of diversity (Mitchell,19). In a lot of ways Soul foodis one of the last connections between the younger generations of AfricanAmericans and their ancestors. “In its culinary incarnation, "soul food" wasassociated with a shared history of oppression and inculcated, by some, withcultural pride” (Henderson 81). Amiri Baraka, a nationalist poet, described Soulfood like this, “Soul food was another cultural product, possibly the most
Walker 5symbolic, with a strong historical lineage. People knew it had southern roots andthat workers, if not enslaved blacks, had eaten something like it. That sense ofhistory was an affirmation of community as its members prepared for changes tocome.” This quote really says a lot about the deeper meaning behind Soul food.Another example of the deeper meaning behind Soul food is the importance offried chicken. African Americans began carrying friend chicken lunch boxes toavoid the humiliation of Jim Crow segregation while traveling (Mitchell, 18).Another big factor in why African Americans consume so much Soul food isbecause of financial status. Healthy food can be extremely pricey and difficult forthe less fortunate to get access to, and this is a problem for all less fortunateAmericans. Soul food is easy to access, financially reasonable, and can feed largegroups of people there for it is the best option in these cases. Another underlyingissue is the acceptance of larger body sizes in the African American Culture. African American women are expected to have larger frames, theirexpected to have big butts, wide hips, and plenty of curves. It’s almost consideredstrange for an African American women to be slim. The African Americancommunity is receiving mixed messages about what body type is acceptable. Onone side they have medical professionals telling them its unhealthy to beoverweight and on the other side they have celebrities such as Mo’Nique whoispromoting African American women being overweight and telling them it’sacceptable. There is nothing wrong with being confident with your body type;however people should be aware of the potential health risks.