On Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx, a street filled with pizza shops, bodegas and nail salons, one store stands out: Juices For Life.
A chalkboard sign out front often teases wheatgrass shots, smoothies and fruit moss, sometimes with hip phrases such as "We got the juice now!"
Inside, a bar sits on top of an array of fresh fruit and vegetables: pineapple, kale, celery, cucumber, grapes, red and green apples, berries of all kinds. On the menu, the juice offerings are labeled based on your health concerns.
But Juices For Life wasn't started by a Whole Foods defector, or a gentrifier trying to turn a profit. Instead, it's the brainchild of New York rap legends Styles P and Jadakiss.
"If you walk down the neighborhood, it's nearly impossible to find something healthy to put in your body. We were consuming whatever was made available to us," Jadakiss says in a short film about the bar's opening. "We didn't have the knowledge or the opportunity that we do now, and that's exactly what we're trying to give to our community."
Since Juices For Life arrived on Castle Hill in 2010, three more locations have opened up. "Our juice bars are opened in the 'hoods on purpose," Jadakiss says in the video, "to educate our people on health awareness."
While hip-hop can be stereotyped as glorifying heavy weed smoking, drinking and a general lack of self care, a clutch of rappers are emerging as leaders of a focused health movement. Given that health and health care disparities continue to be significant across racial lines, it's an urgent one.
According to the CDC, the life expectancy for black people is four years less than that of their white counterparts. Moreover, black people have the highest death rate for all cancers, and "blacks in the 18 to 34 and 35 to 49 age groups were nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease, stroke and diabetes as whites," CNN reported.
Maya Feller, a registered dietician and nutritionist, pins at least some of this to the reality that the economic community in which individuals live greatly determines their health on many levels. Given that the U.S. is still significantly segregated, with low-income areas often hosting tight black and brown communities, there are islands of people of color struggling with poor health across the country. But she told Salon this isn't because of a lack of education or will. This is about access.
Feller describes a "food desert" in urban settings as any neighborhood where there is not "a good, viable grocery store, and what you have is bodegas, fast-food restaurants, chain restaurants." She tells Salon "What I call those areas are 'fast-food swamps,' because it’s not that there’s no food, it’s just that there’s an abundance of fast food," and not much else.
As rapper SwizZz told HipHopDX, "You see the lack of grocery stores in urban communities, and for people in some 'hoods it’s easier to get access to guns than it is to get fruits or vegetables." ...to be coninued