Neither Soul Food, Nor “Slave Food,” Made You Fat | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

Neither Soul Food, Nor “Slave Food,” Made You Fat

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Usually, when I don’t know where to begin with a post, it winds up being ridiculously long and winding. Let’s see if I can avoid that, today… because again, I surely don’t know where to begin.

Hoppin’ John, the Black New Year’s staple of black eyed peas and veggies (yes, veggies…)

A couple of years ago, John McWhorter wrote the most ridiculous thing I’d read in a long time for The Root, attempting to refute both basic Capitalism and common sense by implying that “food deserts don’t exist and, therefore, are not the reason why Blacks in America are fat” because, basically, “Blacks don’t want healthy food, y’know, since they’ve always eaten fried chicken and fritos since they’ve been free in this country.”

And, no, I’m not overexaggerating:

Culture, too, creates a palate — and to point that out is not to find “fault.” Example: Slavery and sharecropping didn’t make healthy eating easy for black people back in the day. Salt and grease were what they had, and Southern blacks brought their culinary tastes North (Zora Neale Hurston used to bless her friend Langston Hughes with fried-chicken dinners). Fried food, such as fried chicken, was also easy to transport for blacks traveling in the days of Jim Crow, when bringing your own food on the road was a wise decision.

But that did help create what has lived on as a palate even after the circumstances that created it have changed.

And ever since I wrote my post in response to that, this has been on my mind. Where does this idea that all soul food has ever consisted of was fried food, cheap food and garbage? Why is it so easy for us to assume that obesity is “so prevalent” (I use those quotation marks for a reason) in the Black community because of something inherently wrong with Black culinary culture? Why is it so easy for us to believe that the flaw was, immediately, us and not, say, food manufacturing in this country? It was usour fault, the fault of our culture – for why we are, collectively, fat. Nothing else is even worth considering?

McWhorter says, “Culture, too, creates a palate – and to point that out is not to find ‘fault.’” No, it’s not to “find fault,” it is to “lay responsibility at the foot of culture,” or to “place blame” in said culture’s lap. To try to head me off at the pass by saying that blaming culture is “not to find fault” doesn’t make it so.

“Salt and grease were what they had,” “Fried food, such as fried chicken, was also easy to transport for Blacks traveling in the days of Jim Crow, [because, since you knew that no restaurant would be willing to accept your little colored money,]“… statements like these both astounded and intrigued me.

When I think back to my almost 100 year old great grandmother and her garden in Selma, Alabama, I don’t remember all-fried everything. I don’t remember “salt” and “grease.” I don’t remember “fried chicken,” and am pretty sure she’s never cooked it for me. I got that from my Mother, arguably 50 years younger than Aunt Sissy.

Then, I listen to what my peers are saying around me. Such denigration for what they’ve identified as stereotypical “soul food,” a culture rich in flavor, skill and – yes – nutrition. After reading approximately 9 books on African, Caribbean and diasporic African foodways as I healed from an annoying leg injury last year, I can straight up and down say that most of these people have no freaking idea what they’re talking about.

How do you go from gumbo, crab cakes, deviled eggs, and roasted pork (possum?) to “soul food wasn’t nothin’ but salt and grease?” How do you go from a plant-based diet (yes, our ancestors, despite the drop ins of pork and other meats, ate a plant-based diet) rich in fruits and vegetables, light on meat (because, hey hey, they couldn’t afford it), and supplemented with unprocessed grain as a filler, to having some man in an Ivory Tower tell you that the reason your people don’t eat healthy food is because they have a hereditary slave palate that determines whether or not they are healthy eaters?

Let’s get something clear. Black Americans aren’t the only ones overweight in this country. Black Americans bought into the same swindle that the rest of the country bought into and were hurt even more because, while the rest of the country had enough money to pull itself out of the rabbit hole of processed food and obesity, Black Americans by and large did not. Two thirds of Black America may be fat, but guess what? Two thirds of America is fat, too.

Soul food is not to blame for our nutritional woes. A willingness to blame soul food for Black America’s current ailments resulted in complaints about “vegetables being boiled to death” replacing what used to be excitement for receiving a plate of braised string beans with corn bread. Why corn bread? Simple: the corn bread was used to sop up the “pot liquor” from the string beans. (“Pot liquor” is what’s left in the pot after vegetables have been treated. Studies – studies, mind you, that were done long after our ancestors were doing this – show that vegetables that are boiled actually have the vitamins and minerals boiled out of them, resulting in a vitamin-rich broth left in the pot after all the servings.

Hell, the corn bread of today isn’t even the corn bread of yesterday – is your corn meal organic? Your ancestors’ corn meal was. Is your corn meal from genetically modified, hyper-processed corn kernels? Your ancestors’ corn was not. Do you have a propensity for “sweet corn bread?” That’s neither a “North” nor a “South” thing – that’s a processed food thing. You can thank “Jiffy” for the popularity of sweet corn bread.

You can also thank processed food for the increase in saltiness in soul food, too. Sure, soul food always used cured pork, but it was used so sparingly (very rare was the occasion that a Black family had access to the “better” parts of the pig and, therefore, were reluctant to squander what they had access to by eating whole parts at a time.) that it would’ve never had the same effects it had today. (And, while there are studies out regarding hypertension in the early 1900s, there are far more mitigating factors in blood pressure than simply “salt” and “smoking.” Think “factory conditions,” for starters.)

You know what else you can thank processed food for? Your “fat” tooth. Fried chicken was fried, not deep fried nor triple battered. It also wasn’t fried in genetically modified oils, replete with omega-6 and considered to be deleterious to one’s health. We didn’t stick solely to the “fat parts” of the animal. Hog jowls, pig’s feet, sweet breads, pig intestines? All low in fat and incredibly high in protein. And before anyone brings up “macaroni and cheese” to me, let me make life easier on you: macaroni and cheese, though it is a soul food staple now, did not originate with African Americans.

Who is cooking soul food seven days a week, three times a day? No one, that’s who. For all of you people who consistently advocate for “cheat meals,” isn’t your “cheat meal” that Sunday dinner when Big Mama throws down for the whole family? Isn’t that Sunday dinner the only meal you’re eating that big throw down? And, furthermore, aren’t you eating Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, Whoppers, Lean Cuisines and goodness knows what else during the week? The height of processed food? But it’s Big Mama’s “cheat meal” every Sunday that you want to blame. The rest of America isn’t sitting at Big Mama’s table, but they’re certainly in line at the drive thru… and they’re just as overweight as the rest of us. Mexicans that come to America and eat their traditional dishes using American ingredients? They’re gaining weight, too.

Neither our pies nor our cobblers had two crusts – again, processed food. (I am totally guilty of this.) Manufacturers were eager to sell us the idea of a two-crusted dessert because it’d require us to use up our butters and flours faster, thereby needing to purchase more at a faster rate. Our banana pudding wasn’t made up lazily of “nilla wafers.” It was pound cake, with arguably less sugar. We didn’t use white sugar – couldn’t afford it – we used molasses, far easier on the blood sugar levels and still could be reduced to be made sweeter. The sugar we did use, was purified with ox blood, lime, egg whites and a blanket. Not dimethylhexachloroferodextrol. (I completely made that up, but damn if it doesn’t sound an awful lot like what’s in the food now.) Our rices were, by default, brown and wild – there was no hulling of rice grain, thereby making it “white,” until around 1902. Processed food, processed food, processed food.

The willingness of the Black community to assume that the reasons why we are experiencing unfortunate circumstances is because of something inherently wrong with ourselves and our culture, instead of acknowledging that those same unfortunate circumstances have befallen everyone in society… as cliche as it is to say “that’s self hate,” I don’t know what other way to put it.

I started the month off with the lead in from “The Problem With Processed Food” because, quite frankly, there is a lot of road to hoe, here. Just last week, I attended a seminar for personal trainers [insert innocent face here], and one of the only other Black women in attendance approached me and, after lengthy conversation, said “Man, it’s that soul food. It’s killing us.” All I could do is smile and say, “I don’t know, but whatever it is, we’ve got to do something.”

I just… I wanted to hug that woman. Hug her and tell her, our culture didn’t do this to us. The disparaties in income did this to us. The availability of fresh produce, or lack thereof, did this to us. The trust we placed in food processing and manufacture did this to us. The same things that did this to the rest of our country, are the same things that did this to us, and it’s time that we stop pretending otherwise. Stop buying into a mentality that says Blacks are inherently bad and wrong, and any problems that affect us specifically (regardless of whether or not they affect others) are our fault as Blacks and not as Americans or even as human beings. I’m over it, and I hope you are, too.

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

37 Comments

  1. Jennifer W

    February 6, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    Great post! I agree, its all the processed food. When I was young, my grandma, who’s truly a country girl from Mississippi, made all the ‘soul food’ for us, and we never gained weight. It was actually very healthy, everything was made from scratch, and she didn’t believe in anything premixed. When I got older, got lazy, and started eating fast food, the weight packed on quickly. Now I’m back to eating healthier and not eating all the processed stuff, and the weight is falling off. Also, big fan of the site, love it!

  2. Ebonie B

    February 6, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    You hit the nail right on the head with this blog, I’m telling you….SMH. I grew up on soul food and now that I think about it, the meals always consisted of mainly veggies . My favorites were my grandmothers cabbage, greens and rudabegah’s (turnips for the uninformed). Meat was present but no where near as plentiful as the veggies and grain. I loved the pot liquor and the corn bread. My mother cooked the same way and still does, she also adds some healthier alternatives. Fast food was a very rare treat for my brother and I, Nd don’t you dare brng any boxed anything into my grandmother and mothers kitchen, Lord have mercy. My weight didn’t come on me until my teen years when I could make choices about that I ate. I find it amazing how society never really wants to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room, but will run down the little house fly the flew in the window….unbelievable…..

  3. Eva

    February 6, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Great post. My mother used to tell me how when she was a child in the 1930′s, breakfast was eggs and brains (I guess cow brains); everything had gravy poured on it because that was how you stretched meals. I had family members who did cook fried chicken, but they also had baked chicken and vegetables too. Soul food wasn’t bad why? Because it was REAL FOOD.

    The reason people are fat today is because we’re not eating FOOD. Food deserts do exist. I knew a woman who lived in an area where there wasn’t a supermarket in walking distance and you had to walk 5 blocks to the subway and then ride three stops to get to the nearest supermarket. I live in an area where I can walk to three supermarkets and if I really want to stretch myself, I can get to Path-Mark on foot as well.

    Now I do believe in personal responsibility and admitting your part in what goes on in your life. But it’s not fair to glob 100% of the blame on yourself. It’s not right to beat yourself up.

  4. Jas

    February 6, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    AMEN!!!!!!

  5. Shana

    February 6, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    Hello Erika,
    I have been reading your blog for about a year. I love all the info and tips you give out. I have a question for you. I know you are not a medical expert but I would like to know if you have written any articles on Fibriods? My doctor told me I had them when I was pregnant with my daughter. My daughter is now eight. They don’t bother me but the doctor told me she is going to watch them because they are growing. My question is do you know any types of food that I should be eating or staying away from? Anything that you can dig up would be a big help. It seems that Black women get it twice as much as any other race and they are not sure why it happens. Thanks!

    • FredBee

      June 21, 2013 at 8:24 PM

      RE: Fibroids

      A close friend had trouble with bad results on her mammograms. A busy mother of small children, she also drank lots of diet cola–lots of it. The problems diappeared when she swore off the soda (and all caffeine).

  6. Jame (@jameane)

    February 6, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    I highly recommend the book “The Jungle Effect.” It talks about how ‘indigenous diets’ have a lower incidence of western diseases. The book is a bit travelogue and case studies. The case study on colon cancer focuses on west African foods. The case study for the chapter later went to ask he Carolina-bred dad about the “soul food” he had growing up. The dishes were things like greens, whole grains, hopping john, beans and meat as a condiment, and fruit for dessert. Celebrations included cakes and fried stuff on an occasional basis. Most days he ate beans and greens.

    • Eva

      February 7, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      Very interesting. When you think about it, “soul food” was mainly veggies. Why? Because people might have grown their own vegetables; plus meat was expensive. Cookies and cakes were for birthdays and other celebrations. Today, if you want cookies or cakes, you only have to go down the street. That’s what is making us fat, food being industrialized.

  7. Aisha

    February 7, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    When I was in my ivory tower I was doing some interviews with young Black girls in the rural south. Two important things happened:

    1. When I interviewed them about their eating habits they actually didn’t care for homemade mac and cheese. Their palate had become trained on the blue box. It made me so sad. Soul food wasn’t the culprit in this town.

    2. When doing a literature search for African-American and hypertension I couldn’t really find the articles I needed. One day in frustration I searched for fried chicken in the database. Every article I ever needed was right there. That told me a lot about how academia views us.

  8. Cole

    February 7, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    Had to sleep on this one!

    I guess I don’t agree entirely. I do think that some of the Soul Food eating, particularly it’s newer incarnations are pretty unhealthy. My grandparents (they were born in the 30s and 40s) HARDLY ate fresh vegetables. I distinctly recall watching my granddad pick the pork bits out of the overcooked cabbage and only eat that. I’ve never seen him eat vegetables. NEVER. He’s had 2 heart attacks and a stroke.

    Depending on where you grew up and whether or not grams worked full-time really impacted how often fresh instead of canned vegetables were served. I’m from a pork town, so most people ate pork because it was cheap and available. I know in my own household in the 90s, fried chicken was on the menu at least 3 times a week. I guess I don’t care for “soul food” cooking because I associate it with overcooked and, yes, deep fried (though not necessarily battered). This is how my family cooks, and a lot of my Southern peers’ families cook. I don’t think Soul Food on the whole is inherently bad, but perhaps the original author’s own experience was much like my own – limited examples of fresh, lots of starchy foods, and lots of unidentified pig parts. I suppose I don’t like generalizations, but I don’t think not being on the soul food train means you’re self-hating.

    • niksmit

      February 8, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      But I think you do agree with Erika. Her point was traditional soul food is not the problem, the modernization of soul food cooking with processed foods is the problem. That along with increased access to meat perhaps. You both agree that the adjustments made to tradition are a bad look. Picking around the greens to get to the meat and completely discarding the pot liquor full of nutrients is not traditional. Your grandparents’ habits are modern, not traditional. They were born less than 100 years ago, after processed foods became popular and the basest starvation became rarer in this country. The history of Black people in the Americas is 300 or so years longer than that. The point is more like, should we even call the modern incarnations soul food?

      A commenter above mentioned some children’s preference for boxed pasta & cheese product. The manufacturer can call that macaroni & cheese all they want, but I personally have never recognized it as such. If I had created the original macaroni & cheese recipe, I would not want the health problems of people who eat the blue box product daily associated with my creation. What does that processed imitation have to do with the real food I made?
      [I'm also curious about where mac & cheese comes from now. Is it an American hybrid of a French sauce and Italian pasta? American variation on some traditional pasta dish? Someone drop some culinary history on me.]

      • Erika Nicole Kendall

        February 8, 2012 at 2:31 PM

        Thank you for your comment, and as for macaroni and cheese’s history… sit tight. :)

  9. Dee

    February 8, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    SO over it! Thanks for this post, thanks for your research on this topic. I read this blog called refusetoregain, and the author there is a doctor who focuses on obesity and nutrition, and the general history and development of food. She too believes that it’s not the DISHES that are to blame- it’s the ingredients. She recalls how her family ate in the 50′s, and it wasn’t strictly veggies and lean proteins, included alot of homemade ice-cream, and no one in their community was fat. I also appreciate how you make the link between general disparagement of black culture (including self-hate), and blaming the cultural dishes. Also, from a Mexican family I know, they go to Mexican grocery stores to get more original ingredients, and their cultural dishes don’t make them fat either. Their cheese when making cheesey dishes- I don’t think I’ve ever seen real cheese before. It has to stay in water to stay fresh. I’ve also noticed so much raw veggies and fruit incorporated in their meals, EVERY meal, so much better compared to the modern American meals. Anyway. You made so many great points, I hope this perspective gets out there and takes over the discourse!

  10. Juniysa Serens

    February 8, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Excellent points, and I hope the next installments will focus on the ‘exercise’ part of the soul food/slave food debate. We (as a collective group) did a lot more physical labor back then than we do now. There wasn’t a plethora of entertainment at the tips of our fingers in history- primarily people had to create their fun to pass their free time. While processed food and manufacturing plays a huge part in changing of soul food/slave food, we can’t forget the physical/economic part either.

    The food deserts is astonishing to me. Country stores still exist but are few and far between- and they sell the old-fashioned products (which you cannot find in a grocery chain store).

  11. linnie

    February 8, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s and my mother was a stay at home mom. We were very poor. She canned fresh fruit and veggies for the winter, we ate meat but in small quantities, she baked from scratch, and our portions weren’t massive like you see nowadays. And when she cooked chitlings, she’d make a small pot of them. When we asked what it was, she’d say “you don’t wanna eat this”. That’s right, she ate them but didn’t raise us on them. I didn’t grow up on fatback and grease and didn’t know what “soulfood” was until I was in my 20′s. And I remember she and my dad making us all take a walk around the block after Thanksgiving dinner, all six kids. I gained my weight primarily after having my daughter, being a stay at home mom for several years, and cooking/eating plenty of junk food. Luckily, I never strayed far away from fresh veggies and fruit so it has been easier for me to get back to healthy eating.

  12. Dawn A.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Amen.

    And on a lighter note, as a trained scientist, I had to chuckle at “dimethylhexachloroferodextrol”. You’ve gotten so good, that even though you made that up, it’s totally potentially correct chemical nomenclature!

  13. Bridget

    February 20, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    After reading approximately 9 books on African, Caribbean and diasporic African foodways

    I am interested in the titles of the books you read so that I may follow up. I have maintained to many of my friends and family that processed foods are the cause of many of the health problems we face and not soul food. I have often said to them, sometimes to their annoyance, “our ancestors had way more veggies in ther diet than we use today. And we wonder why soul food is so unhealthy? Please”
    lol. but thanks for your op ed. It is always nice to see someone so eloquently express the ideas you cannot seem to get out of your own head without confusing the issue. lol

  14. Sederiyash

    March 13, 2012 at 1:28 AM

    Here! Here! It feels good to intellectually think about issues past the superficial layer, which is what’s usually done with statistics, especially when it deals within a minority context. Thanks for taking us to a deeper thinking level and fully unwrapping what our history looked like than what it is perceived as.

    My grandma grew up on a farm in Mississippi where they grew all their veggies and fruits, made thier own molasses and killed thier own precious proteins because that is the only way they could afford to eat. On top of that, they worked on the farm doing thier chores daily which afforded plenty of exercise to boot! But its much easier to point to the present Sunday meal (as you say) and place blame on that which isn’t necessarily benefiting financially from obesity, than pointing at the true culprits.

  15. C

    March 21, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    You’re absolutely right. I’m from Texas and the only time my parents cooked a large portion of food, with all the fixings, was on holidays. Moreover, most of the food we ate couldn’t be called “soul food” because it is, essentially, universal American holiday food (green bean casserole, sweat potato casserole, etc.). It amazes me that people want to blame black people’s obesity issues on our culture…what about the rest of the US? I do believe ALL Americans of yesteryear were much thinner and healthier than we are now.

    I think that the problem in our community comes down to the same thing that’s made the US one of the fattest countries in the world (no longer the fattest, mind you): misunderstanding portion sizes and general ignorance when it comes to proper nutrition. There’s nothing wrong with soul food but, as with nearly all foods, if you pile your plate up two or three times for one meal, then you’re going to gain weight. Period. This is a problem that the whole of the United States has to deal with. It’s going to be hard, especially now that 1) everyone’s money is tight and 2) fast food companies, supermarkets, and the rest of the food industry is promptly lowering the price of their processed goodies for those who are having a hard time making ends meet.

  16. T Mariee

    March 27, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Oh Erika….i hope your writing a book soon, we desperately need to b enlightened!!!

  17. fanya

    April 26, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    I really dislike the trend of boiling everything down we dislike or want to change about culture to self-hatred. I find that too easy a generalization and it’s frightening. Some things need to go or at least become modified. Think for yourselves–we tend to romanticize the past too much. How many people today live a lifestyle worthy of getting enough exercise for instance.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      April 26, 2012 at 7:35 PM

      Some things need to go…why? If we were healthier and living longer, then why should it go?

      If you list reasons for why “soul food,” in the way it originally existed and NOT the way you know it today, should go… and I tell you why, scientifically and historically speaking, you are wrong… and your final reasons for why soul food should “go” uses any variation of the word, “slave,” then I’m sorry but I’m going to have to stick to my “self-hate” stance.

      You can simply “not want” these things, and that’s fine. I talk about healthy consumption of meat, but I don’t eat it. It’s one thing to say you don’t want it…it’s another to attribute a completely natural way of eating with the downfall of a culture… especially when the REST of the country, believe it or not, is suffering the same ills and isn’t eating soul food.

      You’d think that’d tell y’all that something else is the culprit…but no one wants to believe that. That willingness to believe something is inherently wrong with your culture? Yeah. That.

  18. Madamemiao

    August 1, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    Sorry to say. But black AMERICANS have it ALL wrong! You guys generally don’t eat clean…. Face reality, face the facts.

    Visit Jamaica, visit Trinidad… Population mostly slim…. Even in these modern times we eat traditional things these white Americans call ‘superfoods’ – avocado, lentils, sweet potato …. You may Look down on us, but take a page from our book …. Look at Usain Bolt :)

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      August 1, 2012 at 6:46 AM

      I really hate when people carry their own personal problems into my blog comments.

      Who looks down on West Indians? That’s nowhere in my post. West Indians helped shape the original food culture in the US. West Africans, too.

      Furthermore, do you live near any West Indians who live in the states? I do. I’m sorry to break up your little “Black Americans” rant, but the same problems that have befallen “Black Americans” are the same ones that have befallen ALL American residents, and that’s including ones from the West Indies. The problem isn’t the people OR the culture. The problem is the FOOD.

      So, really… the West Indian exceptionalism is mad unnecessary. I’m sure those stateside West Indians are still cooking their jerk chicken, rice and peas and roti even though they’re in the states… still gaining weight… and could benefit from “visiting Jamaica, visiting Trinidad,” just as much. The entire country could benefit. For countless reasons.

      And, just like America, if enough processed food makes its way into the country and manages to become cheaper than the fruits and vegetables they’re buying now, they’ve still got a problem on their hands.

  19. Mary

    September 16, 2012 at 5:02 AM

    Thanks for this article. We really have put a lot of (misguided/choosing to be naive) trust in manufacturers. Worse yet, between genetic modifications/chemicals for weeds/chemicals for preservation, one begins to wonder what ‘real’ food tastes like. Have we ever had it?

    A friend has a child with allergies to corn. It is simply shocking how many products include byproduct/additives consisting of some sort of corn ‘filler’. Again, have we ever tasted ‘real’ food?

    I collect sewing patterns. I’ve got many from many different decades. A healthy generation will grow up to live a bit longer than their parents, and be an inch or two taller than their parent of the same sex. (approx.) The most sudden increase in measurements came in the 70′s almost immediately after corn syrups began to become common additives.
    If you want to know what a real soda/cola/pop tastes like go to a health food store. Some carry sodas sweetened only with sugar. It really tastes a lot different from what I grew up with. Ever had real soda….?

  20. Laura

    September 21, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    I love your posts because they are so insightful and since yesterday I’ve read a number of them. So glad to have found this site.

    As someone from New Orleans, I can say that you are completely correct. New Orleans food is thought to be terribly bad for you and fattening and a lot of it is. But New Orleans food isn’t like “soul food”. New Orleans food is gumbo, creoles, and etouffees. Etouffee is the only creamy dish there and no one use to eat that all the time. Gumbo isn’t bad for you at all, it’s a stew of seafood. Creole is a stew of seafoods and tomatos. And it’s all very yum. And as far as “new” creole creations that play on the creole flavors, most people in NOLA don’t cook them very often or go out to eat in nice restaurants (it’s expensive) to get that kind of food, but there’s so much obesity in NOLA.

    In New Orleans, a lot of people are overweight or obese and I’ll tell you why: Popeye’s. It’s from New Orleans and yes, it has New Orleans flavors and it’s cheap and processed. I love Popeye’s, but I’ve had it twice in the last year because I know just how bad it is for you. And what people should know is that it’s not just black people in NOLA eating Popeye’s – everyone in NOLA loves it, no matter white, latino, black, asian or other!

    And Popeye’s isn’t the only culprit. There are plenty of places in NOLA that offer cheap foods like McDonald’s — local places that sell cheap food. It becomes so easy to get NOLA food for cheap and it tastes good. I understand why all races in NOLA are huge. It’s not our food per se, it’s due to NOLA having a huge food culture and on top of that having cheap food so easily available.

    I haven’t lived in NOLA for over two years, but every time I go back I realize that I can never move back there because I don’t have the willpower to pass up all of the fried seafood platters and cheap creole / cajun foods available.

  21. Anne

    January 7, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    EXCELLENT POST!! This is so true.

  22. jessica

    February 4, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    I agree 100%. The reason we have a bunch of unhealthy poor people is because CRAP FOOD is cheap. Healthy food is expensive. And everything has corn syrup. Everything! This isn’t just poor black people. This is poor white people and rich white people. This is the availability of cheap processed fatty foods.

  23. jessica

    February 4, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    and as a white person who also grew up on “country” food – most of what I remember wasn’t fried. It was grown in our grandfather’s garden and boiled.
    Yes mac and cheese and gravy are bad but that’s why you eat them sparingly! My favorite is mashed potatoes and while that’s bad for you if you use tons of butter it can be healthy if you don’t load it with salt and fat!

  24. Tiffany

    April 14, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    PREACH! I would even say that it’s not the processed ingredients, but our American portions and chronic stress. We started taking about the obesity epidemic when food got so cheap that you could get a chain restaurant meal for $5 and eat enough for two. That’s an outgrowth of industrial food. When did becomes more affordable, people buy and eat more of it.

  25. Sheera

    May 11, 2013 at 12:38 AM

    As soon as I saw McWhorter’s name I KNEW it was going to be attached to some outrageously ludicrous self-hatred-infused attempt at identifying a problem while incorrectly and inaccurately diagnosing the etiology of the problem. Of course, McWhorter wouldn’t see that there are food deserts, much in the same manner that he doesn’t see that Black people aren’t “anti-intellectual.” I must admit, though, I have a special disdain for him since I had to read one of his books for a class and the drivel bothered me so thoroughly I am still bothered by it 6 years later (at least).

    I agree with you that it is definitely time that WE stop embracing (and promulgating) the notion that we are, somehow, inherently bad (inferior, even). THAT is a notion that goes back to slavery and is passed down from generation to generation.

    IMO, what we truly need to do is look at what is truly going on; and with insight change this. I think it is essential that we work to alter our knowledge and perceptions about the acceptability of things within our community. IMO, we are actively poisoning our bodies and our minds. We need to give voice to the disparities in physical and mental health that are enhanced by the stigmas we place on ourselves and allow others to place on us; for simple stuff to i.e. not eating certain “Black” foods.

    I know there are some communities that have small gardens and even that is insufficient since the larger message directed AT us is that we can get the nutrients we need from fast food or from a pill and that we can lose weight and be healthy the same way (with a pill). The irony is that this is the message that is perceived as being “acceptable” in our community by those looking in, when the reality is that we accept who we are, frequently because of learning that we are helpless and hopeless.

    Okay, I’m getting off my soap box … (LOL)

  26. Dina

    June 10, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    I’m a Jewish white girl from Israel and I grew up on rice and beans in tomato sauce. That’s the definition of soul food. It was always the most special treat for me, having had a Sephardi babysitter who made this, and taught my mom to make it. To this day, that’s what a home smells like to me, rice and beans in tomato sauce.
    Same thing with Egyptian style lentil soup, same thing with Yemenite style bean soup, even my dad’s Polish krupnik, which is a hearty mushroom-and-grits winter soup.
    Now, here’s the thing: we never gained weight. No matter how much we ate, even with animal protein once or twice a week, we never gained weight.
    The reason, just as you said, was that we didn’t indulge much in processed foods. Boxed things were not a routine, and they shouldn’t be.
    Soul food is awesome, yes! Every nation has their bit of soul food, and like lots of other people, everyone has their version of grains and legumes.
    I don’t like the self-blame game on anyone, it does little for any human being. And so I wish for everyone to approve of soul-searching, but don’t blame yourselves for soul food. :)

  27. Michelle

    July 5, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    Question, why is it that those older ones from the South now have diabetes? I have been working in hospitals and clinics for the past 10 yrs in two different states. I have noticed that the majority of Black people with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension were older Blacks from the South who were my grandmother’s age. I agree with this article that it’s processed foods that make Black people fat but I believe “soul food” is what causes so many health related diseases.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      July 6, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      Again, what caused “so many health diseases” is the same thing that makes people fat. The two are inseparable.

      No one can eat soul food, as labor intensive as it is, with the level of consistency necessary to trigger diabetes or high blood pressure. It could NEVER be solely to blame for what’s going on there, regionally. Take it out of the context of race; you may very well see a lot of white people* with the same maladies, too. Why? Because large portions of the South are poor, rural, and short on fresh produce.

      The need to blame soul food for SOMETHING….we need to let that go. Our soul food isn’t to blame for the onslaught of high blood pressure happening in Asia and Africa right now; we can blame McDonalds for that.

      *You, also, may very well NOT see many white people with these issues, because – depending on your job or the location of your hospital – you may not see very many white people at all. Let’s not pretend that hospitals aren’t embroiled within their own politics, here. LOL

  28. junglebabe

    August 12, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    great points. i grew up in the south, po’ white. my mother cooked alot of fried chicken when we could get it. we had vegetables from grandfather’s garden and those were boiled to death and always had alot of white sugar added to everything. of course, this was in the 60s, 70s after processed food was there. she used crisco for baking, which was transfat. and processed transfat margarine and oils. we weren’t fat then, but our family didn’t have enough food to make us fat. my body will hold on to every ounce, etc. but my siblings do not. but i am the only one who is shaped identical to my mother’s mother omg. and this was evidenced from the moment i entered the world. I believe that if I had grown up in a world that didn’t feed me white sugar, grease, etc., I might not ever have had to deal with getting rid of so much sugar, bigger portions, etc.

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