Healthy options pop up in South LA, but old eating habits die hard


Adrian Florido | KPCC (text and audio)
Maya Sugarman | KPCC (photos)

This article was produced for Watts Revisited, a multimedia project launched by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that explores challenges facing South L.A. as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots. Learn more at

Mary Muñoz, left, and her daughter, Melanie, smell fresh herbs grown at one of Community Services Unlimited's five mini-urban farm sites. | Photo by Maya Sugarman for KPCC

Mary Muñoz, left, and her daughter, Melanie, smell fresh herbs grown at one of Community Services Unlimited’s five mini-urban farm sites. | Photo by Maya Sugarman for KPCC

Each Friday afternoon, the corner of Western Avenue and 39th Street in South L.A. gets a little brighter. Just before 2 o’clock, Rosario Mireles pulls up in a utility truck, unloads crates of organic fruit and vegetables, and sets up a produce stand in the parking lot of a liquor store where addicts used to loiter.

The produce stand popped up not long after a nearby Ralph’s grocery store shut down in 2013, leaving only a Food 4 Less in the area, where neighbors say quality can be hit and miss. It’s one of a constellation of small efforts that nonprofits have launched to increase access to fresh produce across South L.A., where options are limited. They’ve included farmer’s markets, community and school gardens, and corner store conversions. [Read more…]

Chef brings Caribbean flavors to South LA

By Diana Lee

Stuart Eubanks takes his post at the farmers market. | Who's Hungry Instagram

Stuart Eubanks takes his post at the farmers market. | Who’s Hungry Instagram

Every farmers’ market has its share of fresh produce and a selection of gourmet cheese, but chances are, you haven’t encountered Caribbean cuisine. A local chef is now making waves in South L.A. with his interpretation of many flavors in the islands.

Chef Stuart Eubanks has never been to the Caribbean, but is on a mission to bring the diverse flavors to Los Angeles after stumbling on a Jamaican restaurant years ago. Eubanks says his company, Who’s Hungry Food Solutions, is unique because it incorporates flavors from Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad among other islands. [Read more…]

Obesity concerns still rank high in South LA

By Daniella Segura

Moving to South Los Angeles from her home of 18 years in Los Feliz, Marie-Alise de Marco expected many changes, but the lack of healthy food options in her new community was not one of them.

De Marco, 50, a manager at the Crenshaw Farmer’s Market, said she has always been health conscious, making sure what she makes for her husband and two boys are healthy. She tries to buy organic foods to prepare for her family and avoids other foods infused with pesticides and hormones. image

De Marco recalled how she went to a Ralph’s market in South L.A. to buy groceries for her family, soon after moving to the area in the fall of 2009. There was no organic milk or blue cheese that she wanted.

“It was just mind boggling that there was no choice,” she said. “There was nothing healthy, nothing organic…if you would have taken the name Ralph’s off that store, I wouldn’t have known I was at a Ralph’s.”

De Marco isn’t the only one affected by the lack of healthy options in South L.A. The region has long suffered from a lack of diversity in dining options.

About 70 percent of the restaurants in South L.A. are fast food restaurants, far higher than areas such as West L.A., where the figure is about 40 percent, according to the Community Health Councils, a non-profit, community-based health education and policy organization.

Paul Simon, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, said the abundance of fast food restaurants contributes to the high obesity rates in South L.A.

In 2011, about 33 percent of adults in South L.A. were obese, which is an estimated 12 percentage points higher than Los Angeles County’s overall rate, according to reports by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

“We think [the obesity rate] reflects the types of foods that are available in that community,” Simon said. “It’s a very low income area of the county, and it seems to be filled with foods that are prone to making people overweight.”

City officials have recently taken measures to address the problem; passing a fast food moratorium that restricts the building of stand-alone fast food restaurants in South L.A.

Since the start of the ban in 2007, obesity rates among adults in South L.A. have fallen by about 3 percentage points, according to reports by the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The decrease marked the largest fall in obesity for any area in L.A. County since 2007. Yet up until 2011, South L.A. had the highest obesity rates for L.A. County.

Antelope Valley is now marked with the unwelcome distinction as the county’s most obese area, according to a report by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Breanna Morrison, a health policy analyst at Community Health Councils, said a number of factors helped prompt the decrease in obesity, including the fast food ban.

“Part of the idea behind the fast food regulation was to not concede to allow McDonald’s and these other restaurants to monopolize the very little undeveloped land that we have left in South L.A.,” Morrison said. “Instead, let’s preserve it for the development of healthier alternatives.”

Since 2007, there have been six new grocery stores erected in South L.A., Morrison said. Among the newly built grocery stores are a Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market on Adams Boulevard and a Farm Fresh Ranch Market on Vermont Avenue.

She also said that from 2007 to 2009, the percentage of adults who consumed fast food in South L.A. four to five times per week fell about two percentage points, according to surveys done by the Community Health Councils and L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Morrison said the fast food ban was a good first step toward making South L.A. a healthier community, but she says more needs to be done, including building more parks and other recreation areas, which directly deal with the problem of obesity.

“What the policy has done is shown that the community is concerned about health,” Morrison said. “The community is the one that will drive the change to make South L.A. a healthier place. It’s all about them.”

Twenty years after the Rodney King Riots: Building a healthy Watts

imageBy Andrea Kobrinsky Alday

What does it take to make a farmers’ market viable in a low-income community? The answer is complicated in a neighborhood like Watts, where some people still remember when 103rd Street, which now borders a lively Saturday Farmers Market, was nicknamed “Charcoal Alley” because of the fires that burned buildings to the ground during the Watts Riot of 1965.

Many unhealthy conditions persist today that contributed to the powder keg atmosphere in South Los Angeles in the 1960s and again during the Rodney King Riot twenty years ago: high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime. Neighborhood schools continue to battle high dropout rates. Gang violence makes some people reluctant to visit unfamiliar territory – including the Farmers’ Market.

In a neighborhood park on the corner of 103rd and Central Aves., an effort is underway to take steps toward a healthier South L.A.— by providing an affordable and welcoming place to buy fresh produce and to get good advice on nutrition. We took our most recent group of California Endowment Health Journalism Fellows to the Watts Healthy Farmers’ Market to hear from market founders and vendors, who detailed the successes and challenges they’ve encountered since the market opened in July 2007.

With grants from the California Community Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, plus ongoing support from the Watts Healthy Farmers’ Market Collaborative, the open-air market is held every Saturday in Ted Watkins Memorial Park.

This glimpse behind the scenes includes images by several credited photographers, including one who prefers to simply use the Flickr screen name “Asian Eater.” For more on our visit to the Watts Healthy Farmers Market, see ReportingonHealth’s “Vegetables and Violence: The challenges of operating a farmers market in South Los Angeles.”

Or visit the Farmernet listing on the website published and operated by Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), a private non-profit organization that operates several certified farmers’ markets in the City of Los Angeles.

This story originally appeared on Reporting on Health.

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Central Avenue Farmer’s Market offers flu shots

Listen to the audio story:


Kaitlin Parker, Laurel Galanter and Stephanie Sherman contributed to this report.

It is that time of year again. No, not Thanksgiving, we’re talking about flu season. This morning at the Central Avenue Farmer’s Market, a group called the Immunize Los Angeles Families Coalition offered free flu shots for community members. The line for shots started to form before the nurses even arrived.

About 20 men and women, many of them pushing strollers or holding young children, gathered around a folding table to begin filling out immunization forms. South Los Angeles resident was one of the first in line. She was here hoping to protect her health and was pleased that the flu shot was free.

South Los Angeles resident: We need the flu shot. Now, we don’t have no job, and it’s hard to pay for the flu shot.

She has also worried about the health of her son.

South Los Angeles resident: And I have to give him the flu shot, too, because I don’t want him to get worse. Now, it’s not too bad because it’s cold, but maybe later, it’s going to be very cold.

Flu season can last from as early as October to late May.