Chat & Selfie: On Happy Meals, Two Buck Chuck and school gardens


As apparently well-fed students meandered onto the USC campus for the fall semester, reporter Daina Beth Solomon sat with teaching professor LaVonna Lewis in her office in the Price School of Public Policy and grilled her about her study of food’s role in communities and her work pushing liquor stores to sell vegetables and farmers markets to take food stamps. We later emailed her questions and crunched the conversation into this:

If a neighborhood has a bazillion Taco Bells, KFCs and McDonalds, why call it a food desert?

A food desert creates hostile living conditions. If you believe that we eat just to keep our stomachs from growling, then having fast food readily available would be OK. If, however, you believe food is a critical resource for a long, high-quality life, not having healthy food options means your chances for living longer just went down.


You supported a policy banning new, stand-alone fast food joints in South L.A. Isn’t it patronizing to tell a largely poor black and Latino community what it should eat? How would Glendale residents react if you scolded them about Zankou? What would Little Tokyo say about banning Yoshinoya?

The community wanted to preserve space for healthier food options. I don’t think it is patronizing that the community got what it wanted — I consider that a victory.

South L.A. kids are still obese seven years later. Why not admit the policy failed?

You can’t expect people with decades of bad nutrition habits to change overnight. Why put the burden of such a speedy timeline on this policy? Quitting is not an option. The community shouldn’t have to start over again.

How are you gonna get teenagers to make wheatgrass shakes and zucchini pasta instead of microwave nachos and Top Ramen?

We can start by showing them wheatgrass and zucchini. Too many kids have never seen either in their local stores.


Still, won’t high schoolers fling their oat bran tomato sandwiches against the cafeteria walls?

I would try to get kids involved in testing healthier options before they were mass-produced. School gardens are helpful. Would I throw that sandwich against the wall if I helped to grow the tomatoes?

Fill in the blank on the three community garden personality types: Organic know-it-all Nazi, moocher food thief and _______?

Magic master gardener. We can make something out of nothing and provide enough food for everybody in the community.

Trader Joe’s is opening its first-ever South L.A. store next to USC. Will we see soaring sales of Two Buck Chuck?

I see nothing good coming from students having easy access to inexpensive wine — it is hard to ‘Fight On’ when you are intoxicated. As a 15-year resident of South L.A., however, it is good. For years I refused to shop at Trader Joe’s because they didn’t have a store in South L.A.


What’s worse: Yellow cheese enchiladas cooked by abuela or Beef Chalupa Supremes from Taco Bell? Grandma’s fried chicken vs. KFC?

Anything cooked by a grandmother has been prepared with love and care, making Taco Bell and KFC clear losers.

What’s the one family recipe from Oklahoma City you couldn’t live without?

My grandmother’s homemade ice cream. She shared it with all of her daughters, but none of my siblings or cousins asked for it so that vanilla goodness has been lost forever.

What’s your secret fast food obsession?

Cheeseburger Happy Meal — with the apple slices, of course. This is my go-to meal between one meeting and the next. Most days I get the “girl” toy, but I might ask for the “boy” toy to see who gets the best swag.


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