So Long, Ronald McDonald: These Oakland Teens Are Kicking Fast Food to the Curb

The teens’ video for their original song ‘Are You Loving It?’ has them turning down processed junk food for healthy veggies.
Jul 22, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

The most ubiquitous drug dealers in the hood probably look a little different from what you might expect. That’s because Ronald McDonald, the Burger King, and a bunch of other fast-food mascots are busy trying to hook America’s kids on unhealthy burgers, fries, and soda. That’s the premise of a music video for the original song “Are You Loving It?” by a group of Oakland students who have had enough with being easy money for processed food companies.

Oakland, Calif.–based food justice activist Ashel Eldridge, who worked on the video with the students, has long used hip-hop to help educate young people about the connection between what they’re eating and obesity and other diseases. Last year, Eldridge spearheaded the creation of the brilliant song and video “Food Fight,” which tells the story of a boy who must flee a world where processed and fast food is killing his community.

This summer Eldridge and filmmaker Jake Schoneker partnered with the Muse Video project, which is based at Oakland’s KDOL-TV and connected to MetWest High School. The project brings together young musicians, poets, and video artists in the Bay Area to address social issues. Health and nutrition is certainly a relevant topic in the community. One-third of the kids in Alameda County, where Oakland is located, are overweight or obese.

“A few young people were inspired by the ‘Food Fight’ video and wanted to make something like it,” says Eldridge. So he held several educational workshops on the connection between food, health, and the environment. One of the exercises required the teens, who all attend MetWest, to write about their relationship with food. They then turned those essays into this latest track.

“I wrote about my grandmother, who is a diabetic, and my baby brother, who had to get his teeth replaced because he ate too much sugar,” says Alexis Johnson, who rhymes under the moniker L.L.D.B.

Johnson and the rest of the students come down pretty hard on processed foods. “They decided that despite what the McDonald’s jingle may say, with diabetes and obesity rates going through the roof and little kids getting hooked on sugar and soda, they weren’t really ‘loving it’ after all,” says Schoneker.

The Muse Video project’s work seems to be paying off. “It’s really important for all communities, but especially communities of color that are targeted by food industries to receive lower-quality food, to really connect with what it means to put things into our bodies that sustain us and feed us—really feed us, not just fill us up,” says student Pamela Arriera.

“Hands-on hip-hop, such as making a music video, is a great way to offer a deep education about the issues in a fun, creative way,” says Eldridge. The teens “will always remember that they were involved in a video that was working to expose and rewrite the fast-food marketing that they were bombarded with daily.”