Some staples in our diet are not just unhealthy, but deadly

by Jazz Keyes

Enjoy soul-satisfying foods without compromising your health

African-Americans are a disadvantaged population. This is not up for debate. We have less access to quality education. We are underutilized and undervalued in the labor market, making it harder for us to accumulate wealth. For those of us who are in poverty, we do not always receive adequate housing or access to resources that could assist in our ability to be self-sufficient. The list of ways in which racial inequality, oppression and discrimination have contributed to the social imbalance between Blacks and our counterparts is vast.

However, what is often not talked about is how racial disparities influence the overall physical health of Blacks in America. African-Americans, specifically those who live in low-income neighborhoods of lower socio-economic status, have less access to quality foods and sufficient healthcare.

According to a report on the state of obesity, approximately 47.8 percent of African-Americans are obese compared to 32.6 percent of Whites. What’s equally startling is that 35.1 percent of African-American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight.

The adoption of slavery-influenced diets and the barriers we experience due to our physical environment have not only made African-Americans the most obese racial group, but we are at a greater risk for chronic disease and illnesses.

Slave food vs. Soul food 

“Soul food” originated during slavery. If we know our history, we know that we were fed scraps and leftovers discarded by our “masters.” Slave owners reserved the best nutritional foods for themselves. Slaves were given what was left of the animal remains once they picked through the food.

As survivors, slaves took what was given to them and made meals for their families. However, this style of cooking was birthed out of survival. Since then, we have passed these same dishes from generation to generation without realizing that this style of cooking is killing us slowly.

“We just big-boned.” 

“My grandma was a big woman. Big women just run in my family.” 

Not only have we continued the traditions of unhealthy eating habits, somewhere along the way, Black people started to believe that we were meant to be overweight. This is false. We are a people of larger stature, but our bodies are not designed to hold as much weight as we are putting on. It is important to be cognizant of the difference between embracing our hips, tights and overall solid physiques without using those facts to justify being obese and sick. No, we may not be a nation of petite and tiny women and men, but that does not mean we cannot be health and fit.

Gluttony is celebrated. 

Additionally, African-Americans are known to enjoy each other’s company over food and spirits. The concern is that we do not recognize that we are a gluttonous culture. We mock our tendency to over indulge. Overeating often results in the “itis” or extreme fatigue after a heavy meal. This idea that it is appropriate to stuff yourself and be inactive is a contributing factor to our obesity. Food should fuel you. If you are incapacitated after eating, chances are that meal is going to be equally strenuous on your digestive system.

Food deserts and the Flamin’ Hot culture…

Growing up in a low-income community, it was not uncommon for us to rely on convenient stores, liquor stores and gas stations for snacks and meals. Without the availability of fresh produce and quality meats, the majority of families in poor neighbors are forced to build their diets around foods that were readily available. This includes processed foods, soda/juice, old or bad cuts of meat and foods rich in starch.

Lack of physical activity

Not only are we underexposed to healthy eating options, African-Americans are also less likely to exercise and engage in high energy physical activity on a regular basis.


Here are some tips on how to take charge of your physical health:

  •  Hydration is key. Replace your pop and sugar juices with H2O
  •  Fry less, bake more
  •  Incorporate at least one vegetable into each meal
  •  Less processed food
  •  Replace candy with fruit
  •  Limit alcohol intake
  •  30 minutes of physical activity a day
  •  Seek medical advice from your physical or health care provide

A healthy mind, body, and soul is not heavily promoted in the African-American community. There is a lack of knowledge surrounding this holistic lifestyle and as a result, we are at a greater risk for developing chronic and life-threatening diseases such as high blood pressure, type II diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Our bodies will work for us and sustain us until old age, if we take care of them. Unfortunately, we are so lost to the point that we believe that getting sick is inevitable. A clean diet is the best preventative tool we have for combating illness. To maintain good health we must change our relationship with food and exercise.

Jazz Keyes is a clinical psychologist, poetess and a nationally certified Life Purpose and Career Coach. She has devoted a great deal of her time and energy on mastering the art of communication in order to create healthy, dynamic, long-lasting relationships. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @jazzkeyes.


2 thoughts on “Slave Food: The Impact of Unhealthy Eating Habits on the Black Community”
  1. Some of these examples should be qualified. Corner stores are of an Urban/ city tradition. For those of us who had parents migrating from rural parts of Louisiana, the diet stems from West African cooking traditions. Jambalaya and Gumbo are Swahili words. In the “country” everything was organic. My grandmother was born on the Ellum Hall Plantation. She cut Sugar Cane while pregnant with her second child, and later moved to New Orleans to work as a domestic. Despite the fact that she spent a third of her life, working on a plantation, in hindsight, her meals were overwhelmingly healthy. Garlic, onions, cayenne pepper, scallions combined with mustard, collards or turnips were always the meals foundation. Of course, pork was added for flavor but, fats are an integral part of the human physiology. Stewed meats and green vegetables were served every day. Sweets in the forms of yams and fruit pies were also integral parts of a meal. Cakes were prepared with milk, eggs and flower. All staples at “Whole Foods” grocery today. I am sure that Black people in other parts of the rural south had similar meals. I respectfully take issue with the author on many points however, the many inquiries of “are you hungry” that I experienced from black and white friends, cousins, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, while living in New Orleans were manifestations of kindness and, the care and time it took to prepare meals, after working all day, were expressions of love. Finally, socialization through eating for older African Americans was needed to share the heavy burdens of life.

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