The dog days of summer barked outside, but inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx, where Love is Love.
Yes, it was hot. The day when summer first reminds us what really hot is after initially just gloriously warming us up. But, I was on a mission and was not to be deterred. It had already been a year or more since I learned that two hip-hop musicians had opened some juice bars in low-resourced neighborhoods–in Yonkers, the Bronx, and most recently in Brooklyn.
Music coupled with a healthy eating initiative ignited by love sings to my soul. So when this came to my awareness, I was determined to pay a visit to one of their Juices for Life businesses, and an opportunity had finally presented itself.
Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, cool inflammation’s heat with nature’s nectars.
To start with, I had to know who were these guys, Styles P, and Jadakiss? To find out meant calling my son. Once again, he would need to rescue his unhip mother. Apparently, these two Yonker’s natives were founding bandmembers of The Lox. Their hip-hop careers began back in 1994–who knew–while they were still in their teens. Along the way, Styles P abandoned the smoked salmon with a bagel and cream cheese and ascribed to a vegan lifestyle–including the preparation of vegetable juices. This he credits for a transformative change in his health and mindset. Jada Kiss was thus also inspired.
In this must-see video, the artists explain that they are constantly asked to invest in various ventures and why they chose to bring healthy food to the hood, committing themselves to access and education. In other interviews, Style P’s message is also infused with his concern for families–with an emphasis on children and elders. And, he urges people to begin finding ways to juice and blend at home.
Finally, the time had come. In the video, a man says that if you don’t know who Styles P and Jadakiss are, then you must be living under a rock. So, a few weeks ago I shoved my rock aside and headed down to Manhattan to visit my son. I’d forewarned him that on the agenda was an outing to the juice bar in the Castle Hill neighborhood in the Bronx. While we’d discussed this before, he was a little surprised that I was really serious.
Off we went and headed deep into the subterranean underbelly of the sweltering city to catch the first subway. Whatever air there was down there was thick and heavy, and the wait for the train on the crowded platform was trying. But things got better as we transferred to the Uptown 6, which would carry us to our destination. Miraculously, it was an express train, adequately air-conditioned and without too many passengers. The train streamed along, and at the far reaches of its tentacled line, it emerged from underground and rose to its elevated height. I looked out the windows as we crossed the Bronx River and was afforded wide views of the urban industrial landscape.
Exiting the station, we found ourselves in the glaring light and searing heat of the early afternoon. As we walked the few blocks down a commercial corridor, the streets were pretty deserted either due to the heat, or that it was a Sunday and many of the businesses were closed.
Filling the cracks of lack, helping people to feel good.
However, once we found ourselves inside Juices for Life things were chill and there was some good energy. The set up was simple. A counter, a cooler filled with produce, shelves filled with protein and nutritional powders, and some stool seating. Initially, there were just a handful of customers, so we were able to take our time reviewing the varied menu of juice, smoothie, and shot options and placing our order. The counter person, Akil, was very friendly, and gladly abided my many questions. I was pretty hip to everything on the menu except for its offerings of sea moss and bark.
Our juices came quickly, and we sat to sip. Suddenly the place filled with a wave of people, including a street detective. There were obvious regulars and newbies alike. A woman told us that the place is usually busy and attributed the lull to the heat. I watched as the juicing staff of three plus the veggie prepper who kept the cooler stocked, choreographed their steps, spinning, and dosey-doeing with each other. They moved quickly to fill the orders, loading the whirring juicer and blenders, and gracefully catching and pouring the colorful elixirs. Their Juices for Life company T-shirts reminded that Love Is Love.
We stayed for about an hour talking with both staff and customers and sampling some shot concoctions. We learned that both rappers visit the store, but Styles P is there more regularly. A wall plaque honors him for his contribution to the community. The Juices for Life website explains its mission of bringing health to ‘poorer communities’ by ‘letting food be its medicine and medicine be its food’. This is a worthy and deeply profound mission. Freshly prepared juices from a bounty of different vegetables and fruits provide our bodies with an easily assimilated and powerful source of essential nutrients. They are a balm to the nutritional needs of our cells required for optimal health, and a salve to the nutritional abuse and violence these cells have been prey to. It was really beautiful to witness the communal toast of good health that each cup of juice provided to all who were there that day.
Training back, I wondered how viable could such enterprises be. Could juice bars become as ubiquitous as the fast-food joints, liquor stores and bodegas that are known to populate such communities? Is the five to six dollar price per glass–which is cheaper than at many similar places–still too much for many to make for a sustainable habit? Or is that cost actually cheaper than many other commonly purchased unhealthy products?
I believe that such initiatives contribute to sowing the seeds of change. And, that education and empowerment will promote changes in disease prevention and the delivery of healthcare. For now, I would love for there to be the opportunity to allow persons who receive SNAP Benefits to be able to redeem them for juices, similar to their expanded acceptance at Farmer’s Markets. Next, I’d like to see juicing kiosks in more places–such as community markets, health clinics, and hospitals. And, and for more cultural icons to use their celebrity to endorse and support health-promoting activities.
To Styles P, Jadakiss, and all those who are making this happen, I thank you. Just one thing, if I may–it looks like you could use an additional juice machine.
And stay posted, my next trip to the city may include a visit to Brooklyn, to check out Francesca Chaney’s Sol Sips.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and comments–and to feel your love.
Love Is Love, Elyn
MyPlate Rap: The dog days of summer barked outside, But inside was chill at Juices for Life, in the Bronx where Love is Love.
And Styles P with Jada’s Kiss, Cool inflammation’s heat with Nature’s nectars, Filling the cracks of lack, Helping people to feel good. by Elyn