A rap beat pounds for the north Minneapolis youth as they dance in a garden — shovel and watering can in hand — dropping verses about the importance of healthy meals and spooling lines about vitamins folded into foods.
This YouTube video decidedly is not your mother’s campaign to get you to eat more veggies. Titled “Grow Food,” it’s a project of the youth employment arm of north Minneapolis-based nonprofit Appetite For Change.
Behind the catchy verses, the video aims to show people why they should eat healthier amid the swath of fast-food chains in north Minneapolis. Since posting it to YouTube in mid-November, it has drawn national attention and morphed into an anthem for nutritious meals in the neighborhood.
About 25 young people, from 4 to 24 years old, worked on or participated in the five-minute video, including employees, alumni and volunteers for the nonprofit’s youth program.
It drew more than a quarter-million views as of Dec. 28 on YouTube, plus social media shout-outs from celebrities like musicians Nick Cannon and Chris Brown. The video has had millions of views across different social platforms, said Appetite For Change co-founder and executive director Michelle Horovitz.
North Minneapolis sometimes is called a “food swamp,” Horovitz said, which means that fast-food and other unhealthy food options dominate the area. Raps a guy in the video: “See in my ’hood, there ain’t really much to eat / Popeyes on the corner, McDonald’s right across the street.”
Appetite For Change aims to use food as a channel for health, economic development and social change, according to its mission.
A year ago, youths from the nonprofit counted 38 fast-food and junk-food-heavy stores from Interstate 94 to Upton Avenue N., said Princess Titus, education and training director and co-founder of the nonprofit. Only two sit-down eateries in that stretch of north Minneapolis have healthy food options, she said.
Young people hear enough negatives about their neighborhood, Horovitz said. But this is a way to turn a negative into a positive.
“We actually prefer to think of north Minneapolis as a changing foodscape,” she said.
The kids are all right
The youths in the video sport “Appetite For Change” T-shirts, spilling lines that fans across the internet have lauded. “Fake food is kind of like putting poison in your brain,” a teenage girl raps.
A guy in a white hoodie expounds on neighborhood issues: “All this talk about guns and the drugs, pretty serious / But look at what they feeding y’all, that’s what’s really killing us.”
The song and video were produced in two weeks, Titus said. The video was all youth-driven, she added, from picking filming locations to costumes and writing lines.
It’s more powerful for young people to hear the “eat healthy” directive from peers instead of parents, said Ieshia Dabbs, 22, a youth leader in the program. Rapping about healthy food isn’t easy, she said.
“It’s amazing, in a way, that these kids are now being recognized in the community,” she said.
Appetite For Change’s youth employment program gives young people a chance to work and learn about issues like urban agriculture. During its six-month run this year, 34 people were employed and completed the full program. Interested youth can e-mail Titus for application information at email@example.com.
The nonprofit is in the process of expanding the youth employment program to a year-round model, Horovitz said.
“There’s just a lot of momentum around north Minneapolis youth and the power that they have to be positive change makers,” she said.