I have so much love for fruit snacks. They are high fructose syrupy goodness. I don’t care how bad they are for me. Welch’s says they use fruit juice for theirs. No matter to me. They could be using astronaut pee and I’d still be down. When I was younger, I would drink Kool-Aid and immediately pop some sort of fruit chewy candy thing in my mouth, and imagine myself swimming in a sea of whatever flavor I was drinking. Heck, I still do that now. It was the only way I could actually drink water when I was younger. I had to imagine myself drowning in a mass of sweet, colored fluid. Even now, I can’t keep fruit snacks in the house. I was told how you eat is relative to how you treat the act of sex, or better, the kind of lover you are: it has been my tendency to stuff large quantities of snacks in my mouth, normally 3–5 pieces at a time. I am not sure if that means I am a greasy lover or not, but I damn sure know it means I love the shit outta gelatin based candy (apologies to all my Islamic faith-based brethren). Sugar isn’t addictive? Ask my taste buds. I run through bags of the sticky, sour and sweet Lifesaver Gummies, Sour Patch Kids, and whatever other kind of branded candy that tricks your brain into thinking that yes this is ACTUALLY good, in one sitting.
I drink a lot of water now.
I grew up in what Ron Finley would describe as a food desert. Little Debbie cakes, Kennedy Fried Chicken, $1 pizza slices, sour gummy worms, liquor stores, and churches; these are the things that make up my hood, my community. The other day Fordham Rd. had a street fair filled with bouncy castles, food vendors, and a table for the NYPD to set-up shop for community members to air their grievances. Pushing a sleeping toddler in a stroller, I thought of where my neighborhood stood prior to the gentrified air it is beginning to carry, the neighborhood with the consistent rumble of sirens and drive-by bullet noise, and marveled at the change, the shift — maybe this can be a place my daughter will feel safe in. And maybe she will. But, this is still the place where the closest thing to a healthy option is the Chipotle that is conveniently placed on the same strip of block as the newly built TJ Maxx and Starbucks adjacent to the Fordham University campus. Near my avenue exists bodegas, Chinese food, Burger King, Popeyes, and McDonald’s. The infrastructure that is the inner-city has created a food pyramid that is more dollar menu than it is farmers market. Albeit, there is now a rise in farmer’s markets in inner cities, with a majority, if not all, accepting of WIC and food stamps.But this does not offset expense here, because expense outweighs health here, because clean eating is an expense that many cannot afford here. So here, you will walk back to Popeyes, back to McDonald’s, not for want, but for convenience. It is the extension of gentrification meets urban centers in need of makeovers. You cannot have gentrifiers without places to gentrify; farmer’s markets, with all their necessity and importance, are also gentrifier starter kits for the resident impaired. But, fresh fruit is fresh fruit. And access to produce, fresh produce, outside of the Korean market in my neighborhood or the Mexican and Indian-owned carts is a relatively new experience. The FoodTown in the Williamsbridge area of the Bronx sometimes carries fruit passed its “yeah, this is still good to eat” date and discolored meat; the perks of growing up and living in places not having the prestige to have a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or Fairway nearby. But, is that even a want? Because with those grocers comes the harsh reality of higher rents, less affordable food options, and normally the migration of mom and pop businesses. Out with the old, in with the artisan.
And yet, still. Still, I walk through these streets I write for, and cling to. I still walk into the bodega and order the bacon, egg, and cheese from the Halal spot next to the Chinese spot next to the barbershop across the street from the church beside the check cashing palace near the overfilled garbage can. I will still walk here and there and ask, where are the ones who once occupied these streets and bodegas and palaces? Where are the lovers of these once-upon-a-time stories? And, where are the ones who are still here to tell them? They are not here unless the camera crew follows. Take, take, take. This is what they know. This is the diet they are raised on. This is the diet your body learns to absorb because you are taught through indirect messaging that this is what is available to you. The Little Debbie’s, Drake’s and Hostesses’ of the world, the Welch’s of the world, are making a fine killing off of this belief:. There is little difference between the instant gratification of a tweet, the easy indulgence of a potato chip, the ease of unlocking a door from your smartphone. Fruit snacks and their snacking brothers are the leaders of our microwave lifestyles; easy to have, less filling, and in high supply. I can find a cookie or Tropical Fantasy soda quicker than a banana on my block. That is a problem.
Fruit snacks are what I knew because as much as my momma had fruit in the house; the ads in my hood, the commercials on the channels marketers knew I would frequent, had Black actors and Black voices telling me how delicious that not-so-good stuff was for me — bright colors, hip-hop themed music. Sprite ads with Grand Puba, LL Cool J for the Gap, Steve Stoute having Mary J. Blige out here hawking motherfucking cheeseburgers; it all lives in the same vein. The dope still grabs you the same. I mean, I still eat fruit snacks. I still love them. However, I am more mindful of what my body really needs: green, leafy things, brightly colored foods that will keep me around long enough to walk my little one down an aisle and then some. I still fail, but I still try.I drink more water, though.
Joel L. Daniels is a writer, actor, father, emcee and dreamer, and story-teller, born and raised in the Bronx. He was the recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts BRIO Award for poetry, and his work has been featured in the Columbia Journal, The Boston Globe, Thought Catalog, The Smoking Section, Blavity, Huffington Post, BBC Radio, RCRD LBL, URB, BRM, AllHipHop, The Source, RESPECT, and HipHopDX. He's spoken/performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe's Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, Columbia University, The National Black Theater, NYU, Webster Hall, Pianos, and Brooklyn Bowl.