In ‘Food Deserts’ Of USA, A Restaurant Chain Is Battling The Toxic Fast Food Fever

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As you scurry through your busy weekday juggling a diverse range of responsibilities, you find little time to offer yourself a balanced plate of nutrition. And when an endless variety of junk food is available at a bargain, who would opt for pricey organic leafy greens, boiled legumes or exotic fruits?


The ‘food deserts’ of USA

Healthy food – the term itself has turned into quite an oxymoron in the USA, the uncontested hub of fast food. At the same time, USA reports one of the highest occurrences of obesity and related health conditions. Comfort and convenience win over nutritional value as parents continue to expose their children to junk food from a very tender age. Eating vegetables is quite a cumbersome ritual in most homes. This practice has led to the growth of ‘food deserts’ in urban settlements across the USA, which are basically low-income areas devoid of all options to find healthy food. 

Everytable
Chefs at work at an Everytable outlet

How ‘Everytable’ is addressing the crisis

However, lately, there has been a surge in inclination towards healthy food. Conscious individuals are urging the community to switch to healthier dietary habits. But, the unaffordability of healthy food remains a major roadblock. That is where ‘Everytable’ comes in. Based in the tinsel town of Los Angeles, this ‘revolutionary restaurant’ serves uniquely crafted healthy meals, at the low price rates of unhealthy fries, nuggets, burgers or soda. In fact, Everytable offers two separate price ranges depending upon the neighbourhood, with special discounted rates for ‘food deserts’ in less privileged communities. The ‘made-from-scratch meals’, as they describe in their website, aim to dissolve the food deserts in South LA where the restaurant chain has expanded its branches.

Everytable
School students opting for healthy lunches from Everytable

How Everytable started to reach every table in LA

Everytable founder Sam Polk had earlier started the healthy food venture ‘Feast’ in 2013, to combat the nutritional crisis in South Los Angeles. It is a relatively less affluent zone dotted with food deserts, far from the glitz and luxury of the LA we see in movies. Polk’s non-profit ‘Feast’ organised healthy-cooking workshops and conducted nutrition awareness sessions among the citizens. Their primary aim to target the alarming rates of obesity and diabetes in these regions.

However, soon, the founders discovered that even after all these, people had little choice but to buy junk food on the go. Healthy eateries were scarce among the thriving fast food joints that outlined the deprived territory.

Everytable
Everything at Everytable is farm-fresh

Later, in 2015, Sam and his colleague David Foster launched their own healthy food restaurant Everytable. Their business model was aligned with that of McDonald’s, which had once brought an unwelcome revolution on America’s eating habits. Everytable stood out among all their fast-food counterparts only because of their unbelievable prices for chef-crafted wholesome, healthy meals.  

Everytable
Good food on the go

Since the menu is dependent on fresh farm produce, the meals are vibrant and vary with seasons. In addition, the restaurant also features a special menu for the kids. They can look over the heaps of french fries, pizza and burgers to dig into turkey-quinoa meatballs & spaghetti, barbecued chicken salad or superfood cookies.

Everytable
The healthy cookies

Everytable found an investor in Elon Musk’s brother

At the Everytable outlets across South LA, the price ranges vary within $5 to $8. Chefs harness the fresh, local produce for curating steaming bowls of delicacy that don’t spike the blood glucose or cholesterol levels. Their grab-and-go storefronts have been set up tactically in food deserts where the prices never go beyond $5. At more affluent areas, the dishes may cost higher, but the maximum price is capped at $8. All the leftover food is distributed for free among the homeless every day. Talking to Business Insider, Polk said, “Stores in food deserts are self-sustaining, while stores in more affluent areas help us grow.”

Everytable
The menu varies with the seasons

The idea of Everytable is definitely a laudable concept and has not taken much time to attract heavyweight investors including Acumen, Chipotle and Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk.

At a concerning time when urban areas in India are catching up rampantly with fast food fever, such a concept might seem a far cry. But this model, if conceptualised here, can solve India’s food distribution discrepancy, where one section of the population is starving whereas the other is being saturated with unhealthy food. 


Also Read: ‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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