Black Health Matters
Understanding Our Roots and the Changes We’ve Made
The correlation of food and poor health in the Black community
I grew up in a pretty health conscious city of Seattle, Washington, where there were farmers markets and organic Co-Op’s on every corner. So, the idea of living with a well balanced diet wasn’t foreign to me. But what I struggled to understand is why in my community, the Black community was still at a much higher risk of preventable diseases. Many believe it’s in our DNA, but it’s likely linked within the patterns of food we eat; tracing us back to the beginning of being a Black American.
In order to understand the reason for these illnesses we have to understand the history of Black Americans and where we’re from. For the majority of us, our ancestors can be traced back to the countries of West Africa. Pre-colonization, the main diet of that region can be described as holistic and encourages optimal health. The reasons are that they ate food from the land; low in fat, practically dairy free, almost no meat, plant based with a variety of grains. They ate “true” soul food; food from the sun and for the soul. Because of this organic diet, it provided natural properties that fought against chronic illnesses and diseases.
Soul food, slavery and the true diets we consumed before the 21st century
According to soul food scholar Adrian Miller
“The term ‘soul food’ likely coined between the 1940s and 1960s, has been applied to all African-American cooking traditions . But the term really refers only to the cuisine developed in the landlocked areas of the rural South [...] It’s an ‘immigrant’ cuisine — America’s first “fusion” cuisine — that combines cooking traditions from West Africa, Europe and the Americas”
Chef Jerome Grant says
“As blacks left the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration of the 20th century, soul food restaurants cropped up to satisfy the homesick masses [...] when black migrants left the South, many also left behind land on which to grow vegetables, woods in which to hunt game and streams in which to fish. What they often found was squalid housing — some unequipped for cooking — in segregated, urban neighborhoods. In a sense, they’d left behind the farm-to-table lifestyle”
The effects of today’s society
The risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer can be greatly reduced with a well balanced diet and exercise. But sometimes it just isn’t that easy. There are major societal factors that play a role that many individuals just can’t beat. Statistics show that Black Americans are the least likely group of Americans to get regular medical exams, seek treatment when medical issues occur, and don’t follow through with medical treatments. Even though this seems like a pretty easy fix, the factors of society don’t make access as easy as it seems. The lack of information on healthcare plays a major role. If we don’t know the warning signs then how can we take action to solve the problem? Without the sense of urgency, factors for a lack of action can be from a lack of money, motivation and time.
As one solution, many Black chefs are creating new forms of soul food and are encouraging veganism, especially for its health benefits; now we know that lifestyle has been in our DNA all along, it's not too late to make our health a priority.
Asha Noble is an outgoing writer, musician, and traveler. She recently graduated from Seattle Central College with her Associates in Arts with an Emphasis in Global Studies and Communication. She is currently attending University of Washington Tacoma for her Bachelors in Arts Media and Culture (wish her luck!).