“Grandad, you can’t serve this kind of food to people. It could cause — DEATH!”
That’s what Huey said to his grandfather on an episode of “The Boondocks” called “The Itis”. For those not familiar with the term, or with the cartoon, the ‘itis” is the condition of sleepiness caused by eating the typical soul food dinner. After a meal at the Freeman household, the white banker – Mr. Onceler–decided it would be a good idea for Grandad to open a restaurant where he could serve such dishes as “pork flavored broccoli,” and “The Luther” (“A full pound of burger patty, covered in cheese, real onion, five strips of bacon, sandwiched between… TWO DONUTS”).
Maybe your household eating habits aren’t quite that extreme. (I would hope your eating habits aren’t that extreme.) Still, our daily diet of products laden with pork, corn, sugar and salt has not served us well as a population at all. The following statistics on diabetes are quoted in Food Choice and Obesity in Black America: Creating a New Cultural Diet, by Eric J. Bailey:
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the following statistics illustrate the magnitude of this disease among African Americans.
- 2.8 million African Americans have diabetes.
- On average, African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as white Americans of similar age. Approximately 13 percent of all African Americans have diabetes.
- African Americans with diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes complications and experience greater disability from the complications than white Americans with diabetes.
- Death rates for people with diabetes are 27 percent higher for African Americans compared with whites.
Huey: “This food is destructive.”
Grandad: “This food is our CULTURE.”
Huey: “Then the culture is destructive!”
Because so many of us are obese, cancer rates, heart disease, hypertension and stroke are also more common among black people than among whites. Because of the dismal statistics, it has been predicted that our generation may be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents.
That is why I subtitled this post “The Destruction from Within.” Our food is literally us, and we continue to eat it because it is “our culture.” Our culture derived from African tradition transplanted to America by way of slavery. Because the resources given our ancestors in the slave quarters were limited, they had to make substitutions that were not always the healthiest. For example, instead of the palm oil that often flavored their foods on the African Continent and was rich in vitamins and antioxidants, slaves had to make do with pork fat, which was rich in nothing but –well, FAT! They had to substitute corn for many of their staple grains, and there was no substitute for the many nuts that they used to put in their dishes.
Our ancestors had to “make do” with whatever was left after the masters had their share: pig intestines (chitterlings), stomachs (maws), feet, tails and snouts. They ate that way out of necessity, to survive. What is our excuse? And what can be done to change this habit?
Well, for one thing, we need to know that “pork flavored vegetables count as pork” (another line from Huey). Our vegetables can be steamed, boiled, even eaten raw. And there is no need to flavor your greens with ham hocks or bacon. Salt and pepper work really well.
We can park farther from the store and walk more, we can eat chicken sausage instead of andouille (a Louisiana staple). Use brown rice in our dishes, no sugar in the yams (why do we need to candy everything?), and use wholegrain flour to make our pancakes and biscuits. There are so many simple things that we can do to preserve our culture, and ourselves. Small modifications so that we don’t continue to suffer destruction from within.