Bringing Healthy Food into Food Deserts

Can Fast Food be healthy?

Yes. If chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson have a say in the matter!

In an article in last week’s LA Times, there was an inspiring piece about something we need to see a lot more of: fresh healthy food being made accessible in areas known as food deserts.

Food deserts, urban areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food in which low-income residents have plenty of food but none of it healthy[1], are home to an estimated 23.5 million people[2] in the US.

This number may actually be higher, incidentally, as The North American Industry Classification System places small corner grocery stores (which often primarily sell packaged food) in the same category as grocery stores like Safeway and Whole Foods.

Not only are there no healthy options available locally, even if the possibility of traveling to procure better options arises, often the combined cost of transportation coupled with the higher pricing of better quality food makes it impossible to budget in for healthy foods.

Watts, California, is just such area, which falls into this category.

A mere 13 miles from Beverly Hills, where the median income in 2015 was $502,440[3], Watts is a 2.12-square-mile neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, within the South Los Angeles area. It is a high-density, youthful neighborhood with a large household size and with the highest percentage of families headed by single parents in the city[4].

And little to no access to fresh food.

Until now.

According to the article in the Times, “chefs Roy Choi, whose Kogi truck and Korean hot-pot place Pot regularly make it onto The Times’ list of L.A.’s 101 best restaurants, and Daniel Patterson, whose San Francisco restaurant Choi holds two Michelin stars, aim to do nothing less than revolutionize the system of fast food in America, to bring delicious, nourishing food into the areas that need it most.”

We are also given a peek into what was the brainchild of their collaboration, in essence, which began nearly three years ago:

“At the 2013 MAD[5] conference in Copenhagen (a Danish, not-for-profit organization that works to expand knowledge of food to make every meal a better meal; not just at restaurants, but every meal cooked and served) Choi “electrified an audience of chefs with a talk about hunger and civic responsibility, which he illustrated with slides of underserved communities in Los Angeles. Chefs were at a moment of unprecedented celebrity, said Choi, and it was time to use some of that influence to change the culture; to make sure that everyone in those communities had access to food as healthful and delicious as what they were serving their relatively affluent customers. Perhaps, he suggested, they could persuade investors interested in their restaurants to also help them open food venues in less-glamorous parts of town.”

Patterson and Choi met at that very conference and he and Choi shortly thereafter announced their idea for Locol: a chain of restaurants with a loose skate park feel, serving fresh, healthful cooking for about the price of a drive-thru meal which would not a replacement for fast food, but a better version of it.


If you consider what fast food can be; not what it is now, but what the potential is, there’s a huge window of opportunity with this approach.

Take a burger joint for example.

A grass-fed burger topped with a avocado, red onion and Kim chi, wrapped in lettuce with a side of raw sprout slaw and homemade mayo is neither a bad-for-you choice, nor is it what one might think of when they conjure up boring images of ‘health food’.

It’s what I’d refer to as the perfect example that it needn’t be a choice between food that is good for you and food that tastes good.

And herein lies the key to how we can reach people on a fundamental level.

Education first and pay-it-forwardness can lead to incredible changes…and you don’t have to be a top chef to have an impact.

Do Something  offers an online resource listing things you can do to contribute even if you’ve never stepped foot in the kitchen.

From their directory of where food deserts near you are to their suggestion to run a food drive with food not collected from the grocery store, there are numerous ways we can all do our part.

So…what are you waiting for? Do it!



[2] “11 Facts About Food Deserts.” 11 Facts About Food Deserts. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2016

[3] “The 10 Richest Neighborhoods in Los Angeles.” Curbed LA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2016