East Los Angeles is a food desert
, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
. Little access to affordable and healthy diet options, coupled with hundreds of fast food chains are factors that exacerbated child obesity rates in East LA, nearly doubling digits in a decade (32.2% in 2012). More info: Obesity_2011Fs
Earlier this year, the UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities began a program called Proyecto MercadoFRESCO in which a few corner liquor stores in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights each received a green makeover. $25,000 was given to them to restock their shelves with healthy foods instead of the chips, beer and soda that is the usual for customers of liquor stores. The effectiveness of this campaign has been the subject of controversy, with many different opinions: Is this an effective strategy against bad cardiovascular health for the residents of Eastern Los Angeles? Where does culture begin, and economics end? And vice versa?
Winners of the smackdown Destinee Arriero and Estephanie Alvarado set up outside Yash Liquor Store.
The store quadrupled their normal produce sales for a day during the three hour-long smack down.
The UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities attempted to find this out last Saturday in the form of Market Makeover Smackdown
. And while at it, build up some vital life skills for the students of Roosevelt High School’s School of Communications, New Media and Technology.
Under the direction of the school’s principal Ben Gertner, Alex Ortega (Director of the UCLA Center for Population Health & Health Disparities), Reanne Estrada (Creative Director for Public Matters) and Mike Blockstein (Principal of Public Matters), a Market Makeover Smackdown was to be 100% planned, organized and executed by the juniors and seniors of Roosevelt High School’s School of Communications, New Media and Technology.
Two teams of students were assigned one recently revamped liquor store each and pinned against each other to see which team could bring the most customers. The students were on their own for every point of the competition, from developing the recipes for their cooking demonstrations to deciding to raffle off pumpkins as incentive. No doubt, students are boosting inner-city health awareness and helping local businesses thrive in the process. At the same time, kids are also developing life skills needed as public speakers and event planners.
Brandon Gutierrez, a student competing on Ramirez Meat Market’s side, left out the meat for his Mexican Squash
(calbacitas a la mexicana) recipe, a dish his Guadalajara-born mom traditionally adds pork to. His mom has decreased the amount she uses when cooking it at home.
Andy Alvarez, an 18-year-old a graduate of the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) at Esteban Torres High School, underwent a similar health awareness curriculum and decided to major in nutrition at Cal State University
Los Angeles because of it. As he loads up his car with props after coming out to help and support his soon-to-be-alumni, he proudly says “I want to be a dietician and help out the community.” As part of the youth leadership development efforts, Andy Alvarez and Lilybeth Hernandez, another ELARA grad, served as coaches/mentors for the students from CNMT. Public Matters worked with them for two years prior to their new positions as Community Liaisons for Proyecto MercadoFRESCO.
The organization and school is planning another smackdown with two other liquor stores in Boyle Heights sometime early next year, follow the school on twitter @RooseveltCNMT and website for details.
Don’t forget to like KCRW’s Sonic Trace on Facebook and follow us on twitter @SonicTrace_KCRW.