How To 'Eat Good' In The 'Hood'

Eating healthy can be a challenge, especially if you're on a tight budget. Host Michel Martin asks health guru and rapper Stic, of the rap duo Dead Prez, for his suggestions on eating well while on a so-called "hood" budget.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We'd like to talk about healthy eating now and we know that many people, including first lady Michelle Obama, have tried to encourage more Americans to eat more healthful meal. But we also know that that can be a little bit more difficult if you're on a tight budget, and our health statistics bear that out. Low-income Americans are more likely to have illnesses like heart disease or diabetes that are associated with poor diet.

African-Americans are one and a half times more likely to be obese than members of other groups, and the numbers are almost as high for Latinos. That according to the Centers for Disease Control. So, as we've said, healthy eating has its high profile evangelist and now there is another one that might surprise you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S BIGGER THAN HIP-HOP")

MARTIN: Stic, of the rap duo Dead Prez has turned his attention to healthy eating and living. He founded the RBG Fit Club, which he calls a fitness and lifestyle movement. And he recently wrote a Huffington Post article that caught our attention titled "7 Ways to Eat Good on a Hood Budget." And Stic is with us now. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

STIC: Thanks for having me. Wellness salute.

MARTIN: OK, what is a wellness salute? What are we - hand over the heart or what do I get with a wellness salute?

STIC: Yeah, wellness salute is just a salute to you and your wellness and well-being and all things well.

MARTIN: All right, well, thank you for that. Now you've been talking about healthy eating in some of your music. In your song "Be Healthy" you talk about choosing to eat whole wheat, for example, fresh foods and so forth. Did you grow up with this philosophy or did you have a eureka moment at some point?

STIC: Yeah, not at all. I grew up in the south and, you know, eating soul food and fast food and junk food. And in my early 20s, I actually came down with a condition called gout from smoking, drinking, eating bad foods. It got me on the path I'm on. I became a plant-based vegan. I became a martial arts student and my wife is a holistic nutritionist now and so she, you know, was my Cus D'Amato in the corner with me, teaching me and helping me heal through just plant foods. So it was a blessing for me to have that happen because it opened my eyes to a whole new lifestyle.

MARTIN: Well, let me just kind of go back to that because some people will be hearing this and they'll be thinking I don't want to do that. I mean, were you sad when you first realized you had to change your diet and other habits?

STIC: No, not at all. Not at all. I was humbled. And I knew I was young enough to snap back. By me going through that at such an early age, it allowed me to see the importance of making the transition now. And, you know, a lot of the work that I do now is in promoting the martial arts and fitness and plant-based living and things of that nature.

MARTIN: In your "7 Ways to Eat Good on a Hood Budget," well, first thing you say - choose produce not packages. You say that part of the reason people think it's expensive to eat healthy is that they think they have to go in and get already prepared foods. But you're saying, you know, if you shop the produce aisle, those are the most nutrient dense foods anyway...

STIC: Yes.

MARTIN: And pack the most punch for your dollar anyway. Why do you think it is that people feel that it's more expensive to eat healthy?

STIC: Well, you know, I think it's associated with, to be honest with Whole Foods - you know, and the pricing. They have aisles and aisles of packaged goods that's supposed to be healthy. The ignorance of what health and health food is, you know, living produce is what our bodies and our ancestors have used for, you know, since we've been on this planet, you know, to sustain us. So all these packaged goods and a lot of things that we're used to that are convenient are for profit and not necessarily for our health and benefit.

MARTIN: Well, the other point - 'cause it follows from one - is cook big and save some for later. You said that if a lot of people are worried that if they buy these foods they'll spoil, they'll wind up wasting their money. You said, no, buy the food, cook it up big, and you say - excuse me, parents - you say big Ziploc bags ain't just for the d-boys.

STIC: Exactly. Put it in a freezer. You know, I mean, you can warm it up later and, you know, you can get your big cooking done for the week on a, like, a Sunday. You know, you make it happen, man. That's hip-hop - we make something out of nothing and we take what we have and multiply.

MARTIN: You also, you know, have a suggestion for people who say that I don't have a decent or full-service supermarket in my neighborhood. I don't have access to some of these things that you are talking about. What's your suggestion for these folks?

STIC: Oh, right on. Well, you know, that's real. Food deserts and food swamps are real. There's a lot of urban farms, a lot of food gardens that are popping up. And that movement is growing where you can actually participate in a local garden and learn that skill as well as get some produce or whatever for decent prices. You know, those are some things that people can do in terms of, you know, saving a bit of money and learning a survival skill.

MARTIN: You also talk about some things I know your mom told you, which is season your food, which is to say buy fruits and vegetables that are in season because they are more likely to be nutrient rich and also to cost less. You say look, if you want to - I'm laughing because it seems funny, but we don't necessarily think of it that way, that if you want a watermelon in the middle of the winter and you don't live in an area where they grow watermelons in the middle of the winter, guess where they're coming from? You know, you have to truck it and they have to pick it early, and so forth. So you say get your food in season and drink more water. Why do you think more people don't do these things?

STIC: Yeah, well, you know, we grew up, many of us, with the school pyramid telling us, you know, eat more animal protein, eat dairy products. And many of us in the black and brown community are lactose intolerant. I think just in general, the meat-dairy industry and the school and the education system has perpetuated the diet that has turned into the SAD, the standard American diet or the SAD diet. So it's a matter of reeducation and we'll be all right.

MARTIN: It's interesting that you are one of a couple of high-profile figures in hip-hop who have embraced this and not just embraced it themselves, but are trying to share it with others. I think maybe many people are familiar with Russell Simmons who is a very devoted practitioner of yoga and has also embraced the vegan lifestyle. And you all say similar things, which is, I'm not trying to preach, but I am trying to share. Do you think you're having an impact? I mean, do you see signs that people are listening to you? Or are you still frightened or frustrated by what you see?

STIC: You know, I just left Oakland from this huge Life is Living festival. And it was all young black and brown people teaching each other about organic farming and I mean, it's really a growing movement. You know, the green movement has realized that health and wellness is our first environment in our own bodies. So I'm inspired, man. This is - the present and the future is taking care of ourselves. So it's on and poppin'.

MARTIN: So you say make a plan and see where your values are. I'm quoting you here. You say, in the hood, in all honesty, we spend a gang of money on cable, hairdos, sneakers, weed, parties, expensive bottles of alcohol, videogames, big screen TVs, rims, jewelry, strip club drinking - excuse me, all right, maybe I'm going to leave it at that. But you're saying that these are all overpriced things but when it comes to our health and we often skimp and look for the cheapest food we can find. How do you persuade people who say that, look, I like my wings and I like my, you know, whatever else - how do you persuade them that there is another way, a better way?

STIC: Right on. Well, you know, I'm not in the business of persuasion. My approach is be the change. I think people learn and are inspired a lot more by seeing the sermon than hearing it. So for me, my life story, my transformation, my - the happiness that I found from, you know, healthy living and what I continue to strive to do - I just share that. So, you know, it's not so much about trying to persuade people, but just giving people options and showing people that you can be, you know, healthy, you can be sober and still strong and still focused and successful and all those things, and happiness don't come from destroying ourselves, but in building ourselves.

MARTIN: So what's for dinner?

STIC: What's for dinner?

MARTIN: Yeah.

STIC: I don't know, you know. I got to see.

MARTIN: Well, you told us you had nice, you know, peanut butter on Apple slices and some raisons for breakfast. I was hoping for similar inspiration for dinner tonight.

STIC: Well, I'll tell you what I just had for lunch. I just had some brown rice, some broccoli, some beans, some salsa and some blue corn tortillas in a taco salad.

MARTIN: OK. Well, sounds very good. Stic is a rapper and founder of the RBG Fit Club. He was kind enough to join us from member station WCLK in Atlanta. Thanks so much for joining us.

STIC: Thanks for having me. Wellness.

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