DOWNTOWN — Can access to healthy food help curb violence in some of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods?
Hip-hop artist and actor Common says it can. And he's on a mission to make fruits and vegetables easy to find in Englewood and beyond.
Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., has been on a social media campaign to address the city's food desert problem, and said there’s a direct correlation between the food people eat and their behavior.
“Eating healthy will contribute toward better behavior and productivity for people within our communities and I’m speaking specifically to the Englewood and Chatham area,” Common said.
[Video produced and edited by Kelly Bauer]
Chicago is not in a good state right now, he said, because the black community is suffering. The city's murder rate has skyrocketed, and he said that while he believes things like bringing a Whole Foods to Englewood are steps in the right direction, there's more to be done.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’m happy at the fact that Whole Foods is taking the initiative to say we’re going to bring a store to an area that we all know is dealing with a lot, not only on the food desert issue, but the violence and everything that exists in Englewood.”
He said that he hopes the prices are affordable for the community.
Common's assertion that healthy food leads to happier communities is rooted in science. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that children who do not get the nutrients they need are more aggressive and have more behavioral problems.
A 2004 USC study showed the same thing:
“Poor nutrition, characterized by zinc, iron, vitamin B and protein deficiencies, leads to low IQ, which leads to later anti-social behavior,” said Adrian Raine, a co-author of the study. “These are all nutrients linked to brain development.”
Common, a 44-year-old South Side native, said he's seen little-to-no improvement in parts of Chicago when it comes to access to healthy food.
“From my observation, it has gotten worse to a certain degree as far as the access,” he said. “When I ride around Chicago, I don’t see as many places that would carry [fruits and vegetables]. There are just torn- down buildings in certain areas that used to be grocery stores, used to be restaurants.”
Common is the ambassador for the #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign, a partnership between Naked Juice and Wholesome Wave to provide fresh produce in areas that have none.
Participating in the campaign requires taking a selfie with a fruit or vegetable and adding the #DrinkGoodDoGood hashtag. For each selfie posted, Naked Juice will donate 10 pounds of produce to communities in need.
The monetary equivalent of fruits and vegetables to be donated is the maximum donation of $500,000.
Common said he's on board with the initiative because it’s a simple way for everyone to get involved.
“This is an easy way to help people who live in food deserts by just taking a selfie,” he said, adding that there is still lots of work that needs to be done.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 30 million Americans live in food deserts without access to affordable, quality, fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a crisis affecting nearly 1 of every 10 people in neighborhoods across the country.
And 60 percent of Americans don’t know they're living in a food desert, according to a survey by Wakefield Research.
"When I can say nearly 30 million Americans are living in that situation, then we got a long way to go,” Common said. “To me, it’s like, I can say that things are getting better because we are making an effort, but until everybody is fed in the right way, then we got work to do.”
While he hopes his campaign helps, he said when it comes to things like violence, education and food access, it's the community’s responsibility to speak up and improve their neighborhoods by holding politicians accountable.
He said people need to have a clear understanding of the police superintendent’s role, state attorney’s role, the role of judges.
And most important, people must learn to love and respect each other.
“My generation was kind of letting the younger people fall by the wayside,” Common said. “We didn’t reach hard enough to help the younger people out, but now we can correct it. It’s not too late."
Supporting black-owned businesses and embracing the “it takes a village” mentality will give young Chicagoans hope. He also has this message for Chicago's kids:
"Know that you can accomplish anything great," he said. "You have it within you to rise above the situation and go out there and be the biggest and brightest you choose to be. It’s all in your choices."
Common is working on his new album, "Black America Again," which drops in October.
When not working on his music or activism, he said that he enjoys hanging with his friends, watching games and enjoying drinks at the Langham Hotel's bar.
Another favorite is Chicago's MK Restaurant, 868 N. Franklin St. He's a sucker for juice bars as well.
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