Lupe Fiasco feeds Chicagoans in food deserts

Chicago hip-hop native provides food during Ramadan

July 31, 2012

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(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco outside of a corner store in Englewood.

A long line of Englewood residents waited for vegan ribs, macaroni and greens in front of Payless Grocery on 69th and Ashland.

Dinners like this don’t usually exist in a sea of fast-food eateries. On Tuesday, the vegan flavors came from Soul Vegan Food, courtesy of hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco.

During Ramadan, the Chicago native’s foundation has the goal of feeding 100 people a day. Some are in neighborhoods that are considered food deserts.

Payless Grocery is a corner store that has recently begun stocking fresh produce. Often these kinds of stores are the main grocers in communities like Englewood. But tension bubbles up around these stores because some of the businesses focus too much on junk food and liquor.

It’s an issue Lupe is sensitive to — his first album was called Food & Liquor. Changing that paradigm is what brought him out to Payless on Tuesday afternoon.

“It may seem like it’s insignificant, but you never know who’s going to walk away with something and what’s the best way to put it but juxtapose it next to the thing, which is the most visited thing in the community, which is the corner store,” Lupe said.

Lupe is Muslim and giving to charity is a tenet of the religion. During Ramadan, people who have enough food for their own families are also asked to provide food or other donations to help out the needy.

The Inner City Muslim Action Network is behind the campaign, called “Muslim Run,”  to hold corner stores accountable for selling more nutritious food. Fifteen stores like Payless have signed a letter of intent to be aesthetically pleasing, offer healthier snacks and limit alcohol.

IMAN organizer Shamar Hemphill says corner stores have been selling unhealthy food in black communities for decades.

“This has been practiced for over 40 years. It’s a domino effect if other stores see stores begin to change the aesthetics, remove products that aren’t selling,” Hemphill said.

The owner of Payless says the fruit has been flying off the shelves.