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Revealing the pain and the pleasures of "Soul Food Junkies"

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There's a lot to like about "Soul Food Junkies" (UNC-TV, 11 p.m. Saturday ), a documentary airing on PBS, but there's one line I love.

Documentarian/narrator Byron Hurt encounters some men at a tailgating party cooking up a big batch of assorted porcine parts: pig ears, pig feet, neckbones, turkey necks, plus corn and potatoes.

Hurt has long stopped eating pork or red meat, but as the son of a Southerner he learned that it's rude not to take food hospitably offered. He tries to get away with a bite of corn, but that doesn't cut it. He's handed a piece of turkey.

"Yo, I can not front," he says. "That turkey neck drenched in pork juices was good!"

That scene pretty much sums up the allure and the agony of soul food. It may not be the best thing for you, but it sure is one of the best things. Hurt's doc explores the cost of that 'addiction', particularly for Southern-influenced African-Americans.

It's no secret that that cost is high. Hurt starts his journey after watching his father become obese after a lifetime of eating fried chicken, greens seasoned with pork, sweet potato pie, and all those other delights. His dad eventually dies of pancreatic cancer. Hurt admits he doesn't know that his father's cancer was caused by his diet, but just exploring the foods leads to a journey that changes his family and their diets.

During that journey, Hurt presents a culinary history of so-called soul food, exploding some myths about how slaves ate and about how the food developed. He examines how soul food moved from mere sustenance to cultural meme, and how changes in greater American culture and agriculture have added to the soul food junkie woes. Finally, he shows how some folks are adopting healthier lifestyles by rethinking the notion of 'soul' food.

Hurt is an engaging guide, personable, plain-speaking and honest. Although he makes his dietary choices clear, you never feel like he's judging. As he showed in that quote about the pork juice, he gets why soul food is a hard habit to break. Yet he also understands why we have to try.

You can also watch the documentary online now thru Jan. 22. UNC-TV will also air the documentary through out February, starting Feb. 10

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About the blogger

Adrienne Johnson Martin would like to have her life turned into an animated cartoon. E-mail Adrienne.