If you struggle with obesity, chances are a doctor is going to tell you to eat healthier. But what if you live in a neighborhood dominated by fast food without easy access to fresh food?
It’s a reality in many inner-city areas and one two young entrepreneurs are driven to change. In Roxbury’s bustling Dudley Square, if you want a quick bite there’s plenty of choices, but not much variety.
Missing from many inner city landscapes - the kind of healthy alternative Cassandria Campbell and her team are cooking up in a shared commercial kitchen space in Dorchester.
“My mom was pretty surprised when I said wanted to start cooking,” said Campbell.
Cassandria had already launched a career as an urban planner when a chance encounter changed her focus.
“I was at the YMCA, I was working out. I was on my healthy kick. I went outside to my car saw a young man who was really obese struggling to walk and had just stepped out of a fast food restaurant.”
That moment was a catalyst, prompting her to evolve from urban planner to food entrepreneur.
She teamed up with Jackson Renshaw, a twenty-five year old organic farmer, upset that in neighborhoods where money is limited, so is access to the kind of fresh, local food long at the center of his own life.
“We did a little more research and we found that low income neighborhoods have higher diet related illnesses like diabetes and obesity by a rate of like three to one and that blew me away…I was so angry,” said Renshaw.
That emotion and energy fuel their business: Fresh Food Generation. It’s a thriving catering company; this day they’re preparing four-hundred meals.
But the heart of this enterprise is on wheels. Food trucks are a common sight in many parts of the city. But not in neighborhoods like Dudley Square where three days a week the Fresh Food Generation truck serves lunch.
“They come to our truck, they see our fresh food generation sign and they say, oh, I thought you were serving tofu, said Campbell. “But then they see our menu and they’re super excited that it’s food they’ve grown up eating.”
The menu is Latin and Caribbean, served with a healthy twist and, at eight dollars a plate, priced to compete with nearby sub shops. The catering business subsidizes the food truck. They rolled it out this spring and, so far, in neighborhoods like this one face no competition. They hope that will change.
“Maybe we’ll be in the position where it doesn’t make sense for Fresh Generation to be in Roxbury because there are multiple healthy options and we decide to go somewhere else,” said Campbell.
Which is the advantage of being on wheels, easier to blaze a trail at a time when there’s a growing appetite, and need, for healthier food.