Notes from the Boyle Heights Wastelands

This week the spin doctors were working overtime to make Michelle Obama look like a hypocrite for eating a burger and fries, because it registered at 1700 calories!! One of her personal campaigns is to have healthier food in public school cafeterias and food programs. Who’s not for that? Back to the calories though– for some women a whole day’s intake of calories could be 2000 or around that (yes, that’s 3 meals) and the amount needed just to maintain the same weight, not to loose or gain. Gender, age, activity and some doctors think ethnicity, determine how many calories an individual should eat.

Being a vegetarian for decades now, I have had run-ins with long lost friends at the super market whose eyes sadden upon spotting meat in my cart. I don’t need to explain that my cat is on an organic food diet and eats ground turkey or that I make beef tamales and chicken mole for my brother on his birthday —but I do. I practically live like a monk, because I have lived in a certain way and people expect that from me— I expect that from me. I really don’t ram my personal rules down anyone’s throat and those of you who think I do —“you really wouldn’t want to know what goes on in my head”. Still, there are some hardships to being a role model, even if it’s by accident, like me. I would not trade places with someone in the microscopic public eye, like poor Michelle.

We all know that Boyle Heights and some other communities on the eastside are considered to be food deserts, because there are not enough super markets to supply us with nutritious and healthy foods. If you’ve ever tried to get into El Super at 6 p.m. on any day—you know what I mean. Forget about getting a healthy vegetarian choice at any of the local restaurants either. It’s all about the queso. There are many people that have poor diets in the food dessert (due to lack of availability), they are considered to be malnutrition. But, even if we live in a food desert, we can make choices that are healthy instead of giving into the “high profits and low product” American food cartels. People who use grocery coupons to make ends meet can easily fall into the pit of foods that have absolutely no nutritional value. Think about it—why would a manufacturer give you something free? Usually, it is for a new product and it reminds me of the drug dealers (in those 80s movies) that get you hooked on cheba by giving you freebies at first. Beware of those coupons.

I am glad that we are finally able to see how many calories are in that fast-food burrito or burger when we order. It makes you think twice. I was shocked to see 400 calories posted on Panda Express’ stir friend vegetables. We are talking about 3 small stalks of broccoli, a slice of carrot, less than a teaspoon of onions and a piece of zucchini squash. WTF do they put in that sauce? It does not have ginger in it anymore and tastes for nothing!

It seems that if you want to get any nutritional value out of your food, you are going to have to cook at home and hunt for foods that are not chemically laced, full of steroids or whose main ingredient is fructose sugar. You do know that the ingredients on a package of food, are in a chronological order from “what is mostly contained in product” to “what is least contained in the product”? If you see “fructose” as the first ingredient, just put it back. That is not good for you. I’m not talking about cookies or cake either—some manufacturers use sugar as a preservative on fruits and vegetables. Always read the labels—it’s all there so that you can make a wise decision on your choices.

Recently I read “The Dirty Dozen: Which Produce Has the Most Pesticide Residue?” Yet, another thing to worry about. Pesticides! The list of what has the most pesticides is shocking, it was for me anyway. At the end the article, they encourage us to eat only organically grown, like my cat, King Frankie does. It’s also a people protest movement to only eat organic, because by doing so you jam the manufacturers and farmers into producing organic food only. Hopefully they do not lobby to change the definition of “organic”. You always got to be watching those people.

Finding inexpensive organic foods is even harder when you live in a food desert. As we have mentioned many times on LAeastside, grow your own seasonal vegetables if you can. Trader Joe’s has a good selection, but the Hollywood Farmer’s Market has the best and cheapest organic food selection in town. They are going through a relocation scare right now, so stay tuned for that outcome. A friend told me that there is a small mom & pop grocer near Chevy Chase and Colorado (in the Glendale area) that has amazing deals on all organic produce. I haven’t been by, but I was told it’s in a strip mall and prominently says “Organic Produce” on its exterior sign.  Batting on the Boyle Heights team are some savvy community organizers that are working on bringing some of that nutrition to us, so that we don’t have to hunt around town for it.  Meanwhile . . . . . .

I highly recommend following Yolotli S. Tontiuh, a friend I met on MySpace. Remember MySpace? He is hustling vitamins and herbs—but he has a lot of nutrition info to share on his site too. He’s a good local resource.

If you have any organic resources to share—please comment, especially where to find something saludable in a food desert.


9 thoughts on “Notes from the Boyle Heights Wastelands

  1. I don’t think the Eastside is a food desert, but I will explain later as some of us are working on something in that regards. But I hereby declare the “better” food options in nicer places to be a food mirage: no matter how close you get to it you just can’t have it. And here we get into the class issues simmering under the cauldron of healthy eating. Thanks for starting the conversation, I hope to contribute something worthwhile soon.

  2. I live near Boyle and Whittier so when I want “healthy” or “organic” food, I just usually make the not-so-far-but-kinda trip to the Fresn N Easy off Central/Adams. But as a pescetarian, I get what you mean about the Eastside being dominated by meat oriented plates. I always get the “are you serious” stares when I tell them, it sucks abit for me since the doc’ told me to stay away from el queso, so I’ve been looking for even more alternatives. Good post.

  3. I agree with you Chavo, “food desert” is a bit condescending and “better food” IS classist and manipulative. Michelle Obama eating a burger and fries is political. How do we keep it real?

  4. It’s scary how much we eat now. Something I’ve noticed…whenever I see an expensive restaurant that’s patronized by the rich on t.v. (that’s the only chance I get to see such restaurants), I notice they eat really small portions. And usually they eat very healthy. It’s amazing that so many of us who aren’t rich, on the other hand, equate wealth and happiness with how much we eat, quantity wise. We get a bucket of chicken for the family, or a pizza, and get the feeling that we’ve gathered for the tribe. We watch the kids just tear down. We tear down. We pay no attention to our weight because this is just the American way of life. We earned it. We worked. But those who are wealthy and control society, control us, who really have the wealth, eat hardly anything. They eat to live. They eat healthy. They have other means of celebrating a day’s work. Like buying a boat. Taking the private jet to some island yet to be named by geographers. Buying a hundred or so pairs of shoes. Dating a supermodel.

    As far as the first lady goes? She deserves the criticism. When you don’t practice what you preach, you get burned. She should be eating her occasional harmless cheeseburger in private. But I do hope the rabid right sabotages whatever slim chance they have of regaining the white house next year by continuing to focus on frivolous issues like this, as opposed to more serious problems that could be attributed to her husband’s presidency. 🙂

  5. figueroa produce on york and fig deserves a mention. in addition to carrying produce from the south central farms (who kept the name despite their forced relocation), they carry daiya, which is a healthier cheese alternative that’s way more convincing than anything else i’ve had, particularly on pizza. yes, it’s expensive, but so is dairy cheese and so is treatment for heart disease and diabetes.

    i do see food as a principal component of class warfare. however, it’s by far the easiest one to win. most people get three chances every day. slowly, i think the tides are turning (see recent egg production news for instance), but it is indeed slow and requires vigilance.

  6. I couldn’t even get a bran muffin at Texas Donuts at Whittier & Ford in East LA!!

  7. Figueroa produce is an excellent market in highland park (I give them props for not selling alcohol) and I buy all of my produce at farmer’s markets, you just gotta find the farmers that have what you like at the price you like. Everyone should be supporting South Central Farms – they are organic & have excellent prices (you get a huge score of produce in the weekly $15 box). It’s sad that they get more support on the westside. I buy huge quantities of dried beans every other week for .99/pound – this is one of my staple foods. We’ve gotta get back to backyard chickens for eggs & switching out lawns for veggie boxes (everyone w/ a lawn should have at least one toma & one squash plant going in the summer) and planting more fruit trees. I love biking through neighborhoods and seeing all types of fruit trees that my paisanos have going — mangos, guavas, peaches. The sad thing is that we used to eat this way, but now there’s been a kind of switch — we eat the packaged crap and fast food and the hipsters have the chickens chillin in the backyard and the veggie gardens and the fruit trees.

  8. excuse my ignorance. but i do most of my shopping at the food 4 less on 1st street and mott. Now i dont imagine i would compare to some whole foods or trader joes or other fancy westside market. But i walk down the aisles i have never felt has if health food options were an issue. It seems to me that what one chooses to purchase was the deciding factor if they ate healthy or not. But like noted i don’t shop at whole foods and whatnot so i have no idea what i am missing out. In terms of restaurant selections i would agree its slim pickings, in terms of nutrional value. but in terms of grocery stores i dont get what we are missing out on.

  9. The main thing Whole Foods and that kind of place have (aside from vitamins) is health-food snacks. So when you get your junk-food craving, you can get it settled with some healthy bean chips or something like that, instead of Cheetos.

    I guess they also have more varieties of the usual foods.

    While I like organics, I don’t think they are that much better than regular pesticide sprayed food. Some definitely taste better, but health-wise, I think we make bigger changes by switching away from packaged foods and meats, toward fresh and frozen vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.

    Now, that said in defense of the “food desert”, I want to go on the offensive. There are a lot of things you can get in ELA that you can’t get in the rest of LA. Chiles, for one – you can find many varieties, fresh and dried, that you can’t get elsewhere. Mexican bread is fresher there, too. There’s a pretty good selection of fruits, esp. things like mangoes, nopal, squash flowers, and herbs.

    But, what’s just as important, if you want to stay with eating healthy, is to try out things from other neighborhoods. The stores all have different things. Even if you stick with only riding the crosstown buses and trains, you can get access to a lot of different foods.

    Just off the top of my head, you can reach these from the 40 Mtb, 720, Gold line, and Red line. Assi Ktown, Chinatown, Jons on Vermont, the market at Little Tokyo mall, Food 4 Less 6th St., Jons 6th (is it still there?), El Super Commerce, El Mercadito, Whole Food Pasadena, Gelsons, Trader Joe’s Pasadena.

    OK, WF and Gelsons are expensive, but the rest aren’t, and for some things, they are really cheap.

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