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Roy meets the individuals bringing healthy and affordable food options into South L.A. communities that lack access to fresh food. The journey begins with revolutionary sidewalk gardener Ron Finley on a mission to inspire change, one sidewalk plot at a time. Roy also visits with vegan grocer Olympia Auset, whose startup Süprmarkt delivers healthy and affordable food to the doorsteps of her community. Finally, Roy visits Earle’s Hot Dogs, a vegetarian hot dog cart that has grown over its 30-year history into a multi-location brick and mortar shop, now a staple of a community hungry for healthier options.

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Transcript

- You're looking at a community and an area of land that is one of the largest land masses in the city that has the least resources. That is south central Los Angeles. How can an area that is so historic and so important and so central to the core of our city, be stripped of all of the resources? - We don't have social justice. We don't have food justice, you know, but we have injustice. - Heart disease rates, the diabetes rates, the obesity rates, the cancer rates, they're all exponential when you're in the inner city or you're in a food desert, it's through the roof. - It's not the fact that we don't have food but it's the actual type of food. It's like a cupboard full of poison. I just can't get my head around how our society can believe that we all don't deserve the right to at least have a basic form of life. Thousands of people on the streets starving, how you gonna feed 'em? I'm a street cook, even before I was a street cook, I was a street person. I'm out there doin' things whether it's proved or not. My whole existence in this world is to nourish and feed people. I want this show to be about the power of us as humans to come together again. Let's not make assumptions. Let's not make stereotypes. And from there we can start to talk about these things and maybe understand each other. Whether your beliefs differ from mine, we're breakin' bread. Los Angeles is a city of abundance. But not everyone gets to share the good fortune. And the picture's the same in low income neighborhoods around the country. There's no access to healthy, nutritious food. Fast food and convenience stores don't count. Discount grocery stores sellin' low grade food don't count. What counts is fresh fruits and vegetables that are accessible and affordable in every neighborhood, period. The most sacred thing outside of air we put into our body is food. A lot of our communities don't even know how much it can enrich their lives because they've never been exposed to it. Olympia Auset is the founder of Suprmarkt in south L.A., an area where healthy food is hard to find. As a resident of south central depending on public transportation, Olympia grew frustrated traveling far outside her community just to get the basic staples of a nutritious diet. She knew she wasn't alone, so she decided to do something about it. - I already knew about what food deserts were but it just got a lot more real when I was living here. About 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert, particularly in south L.A., there's 1.3 million residents and just 60 grocery stores as compared to, you know, on the west side, there's about 57 grocery stores for 600,000 people. So, it's like double the grocery stores. You're, like, falling over grocery stores. - Yes, you are. Like, this is reality, right? - Yeah. - Like when you say a food desert, people attach themselves to the word but I don't know if they really understand, like, the depth of what's going on. Like, literally there's nowhere to eat. - There's nowhere to get fresh food. So if you're a neighborhood where the monopoly on establishments is, you know, just like fast food places and liquor stores, even if you're doing relatively well, that's what you're gonna eat. - I mean, there's no produce obviously. - And, you know, it's not really necessarily the liquor store's fault, they're not built to, they're not designed to, you know. - Naw, they shouldn't be the one. - That has to bear the brunt. - That has to bear the grunt, right? - Yeah. Good ol' ramen. - Yep. I mean, in the sense there's nothing wrong with junk food, right? It's like cartoons. It's like a release. It shouldn't be, like, your normal life. The imbalance of it is the problem to me, right? Like, if I'm eating really healthy or if I'm eating a really wholesome lifestyle and I decide to drink a two liter of Sunkist as a reward for myself or as just to wild out and have fun, that's one thing, but if I'm drinking this every day 'cause that's the only thing I have. - Right. - That's, that's the difference. - And it really has to do with the imbalance in the availability because why is this a dollar? Is this really a dollar? Like, who, what subsidies are the soda companies getting, the corn farmers getting. - Exactly. - So that everything that's unhealthy is really cheap. That's really. - Whereas a pressed juice is $10, right? - Exactly, so, it's really confusing. - Yep. - Like, something that comes outta the ground should be really inexpensive. Something that it take a lot of time to process should be more expensive, but, the issue is that the things that are less nutritionally dense are being made more easily available. We're not really in a situation where it's, like, there legitimately is a lack of food and there legitimately is a lack of resources. There's a lack of pathways. - I really wish, like, we could expose more people to, like, really good quality cooking and produce. - And gardening and farming are so important. When you really start to get into, like, what's in the soil and why aren't we connected with our food anymore. Like, why don't we know where it comes from? Why aren't we involved in making it? - Los Angeles used to be farmland as far as the eye could see, but when the city was built, nearly every square inch of fertile soil was covered over in concrete. Most residents in L.A. have only a tiny patch of grass to call their own, between the sidewalk and the curb. It's called a park way. The city owns it, the homeowner maintains it, there are laws governing it. When faced with the lack of food in his neighborhood, Rob Finley decided to grow his own in the parkway right in front of his home. Some didn't like it, but he started a revolution that would echo across the city and around the world. - People don't realize the life they're livin' has been designed for them, these streets, these cities, cities are not made for people, cities are made for commerce. If they were made for us, there would be a lot of green spaces, I mean, just think if you could walk down the street and just eat food off of a tree. The greatest nation in the world supposedly you have people dyin' in the street from hunger. There's no food problem. There's a food distribution problem. There's plenty of food. There's more food than people can consume. Hey. - This is public television, ain't no makeup or hair over here. - Whatever man. - I've been dealin' with that the whole time, shiny forehead and everything. Thanks for havin' us again. - Come on man, stop, stop, thank you. - This folklore, the myth and allure of Ron Finley, the gangster gardener, planting dangerous sidewalk villain, he's going around and creating other gardeners and making gardening cool, especially amongst the youth. He's not producing food per se, but he's producing food for thought. - We're goin' to the world famous parkway garden. Kale, rosemary, this is a almond tree, and these are Japanese sweet potatoes, they gangster as hell. You can see the bananas. All of a sudden I have people from around the world comin' to visit us, just because I put this garden out here. What this garden and all gardens represent to me, Roy, is freedom. - Yeah. - It ain't even, food comes later for me. First of all, this frees you. I was going to get some food and I'm like why the hell am I leavin' outta my neighborhood to get food? With that, I'm like, damn, I need to have it here but also puttin' it here would make a statement to people to see the possibilities of this space. And then so that's where it started. - [Roy] Is this the beginning? - [Rob] This is the beginning. So this is Bermuda grass, so this was weeds. - Everything looked like whatever right? - Everything looked like right across the street. - [Roy] Yeah, everything was this. - Everything. If you look down the street you'll see it. - It's a weird kind of zone between yours and theirs and ours. - Exactly. - [Roy] And nobody's. - We here call 'em parkway. I don't know, it's debatable who owns 'em. Far as I'm concerned, if I gotta maintain it, it's mine. This is filterin' the air, it's givin' us food. What does grass do? We're not cows, we can't eat that. So, my thing is tryin' to show people to think wrong. To design the life that you wanna live, not that one that's designed for you. I wanted people to realize what could actually happen on a strip of land. Just imagine if you had every other block that had gardens like this where they could feed each other and that's what I wanna do. You wanna talk about economics, you wanna talk about sharin' and the economy, you wanna talk about building community, what better way to do it than food? - We aren't supposed to live like this. Our modern world traded nature for concrete and destroyed our soil and our soul in the process. Ron Finley is showing us another way. He's cutting through decades of urbanization to seed us some hope. - It's to me if you're a gardener and you're feeding people and you're cultivating soil, that's gangster. If you're building your community and not tearing it down, if you're building something, that's gangster, if you're sharing. - Folks that are on the ground doing stuff, that should be gangster, right? - Exactly. - Because you are going against. - [Rob] The system. - [Roy] What's the norm. - [Rob] Yep, totally. - All of the butterflies, the lizards, the bees, the June bugs, all of that life you've just created in this little ecosystem. Imagine if that ecosystem. - [Rob] Expanded. - [Roy] Traveled all throughout south central Los Angeles. - Exactly. And it's possible, that's the thing about it. We can build that, we can, you know, we should be designin' our own destiny like that. Just imagine if we thought about why does your father have this cancer and your aunt has another rare form of cancer and her brother has a cancer. Well, what about if we started to think and question all of these things and demand answers and the people that we elected, they work for us, we don't work for them. And we seem to have forgot about that. You know, we are the many. And they are the few. - That's true. - I'm not a critical thinker. I need this plant moved, lemme see, I need a survey, I need a seismologist, while you done thinkin' about it, guess what I've done. I've moved the plant. - You moved it, you moved the plant, yeah. And that's in a sense a metaphor for what we have to do with our cities and our access and our injustice. As you say, is that we have to stop analyzing it and sometimes we just gotta move the plant. - Yep, no doubt. Move the plant. Stop thinkin' about it. - When you're growing up, there's this idea that, like, oh, like, that's the white neighborhood. You know, like, they have that over there. They don't have that over here. And so you grow up with this idea and it's normal your whole life and it took me until I was an adult to say, well, why are we normalizing that something as simple as fresh food is not available where we live. These aren't things that should have a premium on them, you know, it's just regular basic things that everybody pretty much needs to have a functioning neighborhood. You go to one neighborhood and it has it and you go to another neighborhood and it doesn't have it, we have an issue that we need to address and that we need to fix. - It's one thing to identify a problem, and one thing to agree that that problem exists and that we are gonna do something about it. But then it's another thing to actually do something about it. And instead of just being around her own group of friends and saying our neighborhood sucks, the corporations are killing us, she's just doing her part about it. What is this place? - It's like the biggest organics warehouse in L.A. So they supply a lot of the restaurants in the area. - And this is where you pick up all your stuff for Suprmarkt? - A lot of our stuff, a lot of our stuff comes from here. This is kinda like my favorite part. This is the number two stuff so this is the things that'll be normally discounted so you can get some really good stuff here. Look at some of these prices. Like this whole case is four bucks. So you can get. - Four bucks? How much is a case normal? - These are organic. Maybe like 12. - That's a big difference. - You know what I mean, so. So we're gonna pick up our order. Hello, I'm just here to pick up the order for Suprmarkt. - Yeah, we got mangoes, there's pineapples, Roma tomatoes, oh, sweet potatoes. These are some big sweet potatoes. So how much do you sell this for? - So the prices will range anywhere from, like, 75 to 125, dependin' on. - For one? - Yeah. - That's really good. - Yeah, and I really just base it on, like, what do I wanna pay when I go on a grocery store. What upsets me when I see a price that looks a certain way. - I love that. To eat healthy today costs a lot and some communities are made to believe they will never be able to afford it. Olympia is changing that, one delivery at a time. Yeah, we started this way with Kogi. We had a Scion and we used to come out here, Downtown Produce Market as well, and Restaurant Depot, and all that stuff and we'd be stacked full. We'd be hangin' out the side. That's how we did it. - You gotta start small. - Everything starts small in many ways because the ideas that happen usually happen on the fly. - You'd never get to see that part of the process most of the time. When people first sign up with us, we send them a message and we say what do you like, what do you not like, so we get sort of input on, like, what they like to see in their boxes. Let me know if you wanna customize anything. Lemme know if you wanna add anything. - [Roy] So this is everybody for today. - This is everybody for today, so let's see, one, two, three, four, five, six, we have 15 boxes to go. - 15, yeah, yeah, that's great. That's 15 people that are gonna have a wonderful week. - Cool, so, you wanna do avocados. - Next to those avocados. - Let's do two avocados in each one. I mean, you could do three tomatoes in each one. And I'll do some potatoes. Let's see, let's see if you missed any, Roy. - I should be pretty good. Her operation is still small enough where she can see her philosophy and her point of view through all the way and I'm excited to see how you continue that as you grow. What if this is 160, and 1600. - We need an app. - Have you thought about your systems as you grow? - We're gonna need an app to be able to do that, so that's gonna be the next step 'cause we need them to be able to customize it on their own. I think by hand we could do, like, 50 on our own. That's what I think. You know, we'll find out. - Have you ever reached that. - No, that's first. - What if 50 comes next week. - Next week? We just gonna have to work it out. - You're gonna have to work it out. Okay, okay, I'm just askin'. - Yeah. For me there's nothin' really to worry about, it's just like, just do the work as best as you can and if it gets big then it gets big and, you know, sometimes growth is a catalyst. Like, it'll just push you to be whoever you need to be. I don't get freaked out over that kind of stuff, you know? - You'll figure it out. - [Olympia] This can go in the car. - [Roy] So what is it at its core? - Suprmarkt is a grocery service. So we make it easy and affordable for people to eat well in areas where it's hard to get food and we do that by having popups where people can get produce, use their EVT. - [Female Customer] Hi. - [Olympia] Hello, welcome, welcome to Suprmarkt. - [Female Customer] Do you wanna get some kale? - Yeah, just go ahead, grab whatever you want. - [Male Customer] This is a beautiful thing you guys are doin'. - [Female Customer] Yes. - [Olympia] Thank you. - [Female Customer] 'Cause it's hard out here to get healthy food, right? - It's hard out here for a health nut. - [Female Customer] Thank you so much. - Nice to meet you. - [Female Customer] You too. - [Roy] Olympia is just beginning her journey of feeding and nourishing people. - I got two beef done, eh Curley, ketchup, mustard, relish? Gotcha. - [Roy] Earle's on the other hand, has been doing it for almost three decades. - [Duane] Chili and cheese, for here or to go? You got it. - [Roy] What started as a hotdog cart by brothers Cary and Duane Earle, has become a staple in south central for vegan, vegetarian, and meat eaters alike. - I describe Earle's as having one of the most eclectic, diverse, beneficial menus you can find. There's nothing stereotypical about this restaurant. We cook different. Hotdogs is our specialty. It's minority owned, minority operated, but you will not get the typical minority style whatever you would expect. What are we doin'? Wrappin' 'em up or leave 'em open? We have an extensive vegan menu. This is the vegan dog, vegan cheese on a wheat bun. It's tradition with us. This community has followed us form our hotdog cart to our first brick and mortar to our second brick and mortar and now to our final location. You were messin' with me at the hotdog cart? So you got about 22, 24, 25, before the riots? That was '92 so you got over 25 years with me. Those nails are on fleek. Lemme see 'em. None of my chefs said anything out it? We give ya the Rolls Royce of hotdogs over here. No pepperoncinis, no jalapenos, none of that? Hey, I got a extra $100 lotto ticket, can I put it on top? No, you said nothin' else. That's right. I come from a generation where they talked about entrepreneurs and they always showed a picture of the young kid sellin' lemonade for five cents in front the house. We continue that tradition, so when you think of that lemonade stand, you think of the hotdog cart, the way we started. And we didn't just build a hotdog cart, my brother built it with his bare hands. You don't need a college degree to have an idea. You don't need a college degree to wanna go out and do somethin'. You just gotta go out and do it. Oh, good to see ya man. - Thanks for havin' us. - Hey, hey, hey. - Hey hey, thanks for havin' me here. - Wassup, wassup, wassup? - I definitely wanna try a New York dog, a kraut dog. - We gon' do that. - Some chili. - I got my New York dog ready for you. I got a beef link ready for you. I got a chicken link ready for you. I'm gonna even put my vegan burger up there just to let you know. - Yeah, all that, all that. All that. - Will. - Hey Will. Hey, Galfrancia. - [Duane] Carlos Senelli over here. - [Roy] Earle's is a mainstay and a symbol of perseverance for south central Los Angeles. It never stopped serving, listening, and evolving with the needs of the community. That's what I call legacy. - And that's the vegan burger. Most of the big problems in our community is our bad choices of eating. This community slowly started changing. We're talking, you know, hey, what about the healthy options? You have any veggie items, vegan items? You know, and slowly and slowly we started addin' 'em. - What we're tryin' to do with a lot of the food that we have is we're slowly trying to cut out nitrates, we're slowly tryin' to cut out the sodium. It's a weaning off process. You just can't do it overnight. - Like why is it something that's important to you guys? Is it somethin' that's important to the community? - To the community. There's a lot of customers in the black community that suffer from high blood pressure and we love salt. So, what we're tryin' to do is we're tryin' to take everything that we have, everything custom made for us like the links and slowly pull the nitrates out and the sodium. Make it healthier. - Self esteem and. - I mean, the facts line up, I mean, we have so many people from your generation dying. - Yeah, for real. - Droppin' dead at 46 or 51. - Every time, and a lot of 'em, high blood pressure and it's all because of bad eating habits, you know? - Is Earle's more than just a restaurant? 'Cause there's no reason you need to make these choices of going vegan, of serving all fresh ingredients. Like, you could just run it as a business but is it more than a business to you guys? - What was so cool is that we had customers that literally started from the hotdog cart eating from us. They were eating the beef. Then to see several years later, they've changed it to the turkey or the chicken and now we're in the final year, they're on vegan now. To follow us from a cart and to have changed your diet all the way through is, you know. I'm still amazed at it. 50% of our clientele is vegan, vegetarian. The other half is meat eater. That's unprecedented. So, you know, just the fact that we're able to provide it and then to provide it in this neighborhood. - I wanted to talk to you guys about black owned businesses and why there aren't more. 'Cause we're now going into decades and decades where you have generations of families that will never own any property. - They never own. - It's a broken record, you know. - It's a broken record and it's bad in our community. It's such a great pride knowin' that we've come from a hotdog cart to where we are. It's such a let down knowin' that we are one of 1% that's come out of here. - That's what I'm saying, you're one of 1%. Problem is there's so many generations that have been rooted in the quick game where the quick return, whereas a restaurant, as you know, I mean you've been sellin' hotdogs since 1981 and it's about patience, perseverance, about the long game, you know? And if you are the 1% of 1% and you got all these kids and all these communities and all these families. - You gotta reach back. - You gotta reach back. - You have to. - You have to. And you gotta show them a successful person within their community that they can relate to. You guys are an inspiration to me on how to run a business within the community. So I always look to you guys as a north star. Not every business has to do this. - Exactly. - [Roy] Earle's listens, they bend. They're constantly fluid and morphing. Olympia and Earle's are fighting for the same cause but have very different approaches and there's room for that. What they have in common is that they're both focused on changing the narrative and the diet of the community. Good food changes lives. As a chef, I've seen it. I've been a part of it. But Olympia's taking the mission to the next level. She isn't just making fresh, healthy food available to her community, she's bringing it right to their front door. - We're dropping a box off with Lupe. - Lupe. - One of our subscribers. She's been with us for about eight months. - Eight months, okay. - Lupe. - Hi Lupe. - Hi, how's it going? Nice to see you. Hi. - Hi. - Come and sit. - Okay, thanks. - So we have some sweet potatoes, cilantro, mango, some apples, green onions. - That's amazing. I love the variety. - Hi. - Hi. - [Roy] I'm Roy. This is Eden. He's the one that eats all the fruit. - You like pineapples? No? Yes you do. - He does like 'em. A mango. - Look at that, did you know you had Korean spices in your cupboard? Look at that. What do you do with all this stuff usually when she drops it off. - So usually the fruit, it goes all to my kid, he eats fruit, like, he comes home and eats snacks so he has something to much on and this he's not a big fan of vegetables, I'm tryin' to make a big fan but I almost eat all the vegetables in stir fries, I bake a lot, so I try to incorporate a lot of vegetables, a lot of greens and, like starches. - So for me, my whole philosophy's about cooking, about getting people to eat more vegetables and fruits is to like, really, like overpower them with, like flavor bombs, so then that way, like, if they eat something like that, they're like. - That's legit. - [Roy] Yeah, they won't even know if they're eating avocado, tomato, corn, kale. - [Olympia] That's really good. - Green onion, ginger, garlic, all this. 'Cause you say that to your kid and he'll be like no way. - 2016 when I had pneumonia and I was chronically sick so I was like looking more into organic and non-GMO foods and that's when I came across Olympia and I was like, we could get organics, like, affordable price. In my community where I live, like, I have either the option to go to a swap meet or a Super. - It's almost, like, discouraging to try to be healthy. - Yeah, and I also wanted, like, the same health for my son. - I wanna be able to expand to all the hoods across America. Every hood in America should have, you know, access to this. - [Roy] A Suprmarkt. - Yeah. - Like, anyone can sell fruit and vegetables but, like, what you're doing is you're building community, you're teaching health, you're healing but at the same time you're making it affordable so Lupe can buy it, so someone who comes up to your stand can buy it. And that to me was the big difference of what you're doing versus just providing organic vegetables. Throughout the day, learning more and more about her philosophy and her outlook and her vision, there's somethin' about her energy that just radiates. There are many folks throughout history and there will be many folks in the future that are confronted with the steering wheel of life, whether it's injustice, food, whatever the case may be, you've presented sometimes with that moment where you have to rise. I see it in her, changing and affecting people's lives. She's gonna blow up. The riddle is how do infuse humanity and caring into a system that rewards bulldozing over everything else. We're meeting people that are seeing the world in a very wholistic way, and showing us that we can all win. Olympia, Ron, Duane, and Cary aren't taking the easy road. They're paving the way for all of us, allowing us to imagine a different world with a different future. They are beacons of hope.