Youth performance artist Alexis Johnson, a 19-year-old from Oakland also known as L.L.D.B., watched her four-year-old brother put under anesthesia while he went through painful dental surgery two years ago.
Observing how her brother’s addiction to fast food and candy led to extreme tooth decay and a major dental procedure became part of the impetus for “Are You Loving It?”, a new music video she co-produced with other young Oakland artists this summer.
Through imagery and lyrics that play on McDonald’s theme, “I’m loving it,” the young media-makers suggest that addiction to fast food and junk food is similar to an addiction to drugs.
Johnson always wanted to rap against fast food, she said, because of her personal experiences. “My baby brother ate whatever he pleased,” she said. “All I heard him say was ‘Wendy’s,’ ‘Burger King,’ ‘McDonald’s.’ I never heard him ask for something homemade.”
The students began rapping about their own personal experiences with fast food, and came up with the song and resulting video together.
In the opening scene, fast food characters Wendy, Burger King, Jack in the Box and the Hamburglar are sprawled out, high from binging on junk food, when Ronald McDonald, the junk food kingpin, wakes them up to do his bidding–selling junk food on the streets to unsuspecting children.
“Food justice is the topic,” raps L.L.D.B. in the video. “Going green so your teeth won’t become rotten.” Food justice refers to underserved communities accessing healthy food that is ideally fresh, grown locally, nutritious, and affordable.
The music video was the result of a collaboration between Muse Video, a collaborative project of youth organizations which focuses on youth-produced “musical news,” and Media Enterprise Alliance, a non-profit which teaches Oakland youth specialized media skills.
Damaris Romero, a 16-year-old MetWest High School student and intern at Media Enterprise Alliance, says she learned valuable production skills while working on the video. “Being here helped to boost my confidence,” Romero said. “These are skills to have and expands our options, what we want to do in the future.”
Reflecting on Oakland’s food scene, Romero said, “There’s a lot of fast food everywhere. It’s affecting our generation of children.”
Over 40 percent of children in Alameda County are obese, according to a report from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Health Policy Research and California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
Jake Schoneker, MEA’s program director and a former Oakland North reporter who worked with the students to produce the video, says that using a young voice is key to educating Oakland teens about important issues. “I’ve seen the way that students react to authoritative adults telling them what to do, and I know that doesn’t work,” he said. “What we need are young people reaching out to young people about what they know.”
After viewing the music video at MetWest High School, student Basheer Dalil said its message was clear: “Eating fast food is bad and you should eat more vegetables.” But he said the video may not address the issue that “sometimes people don’t have other options. Maybe fast food is all they have access to.”
MetWest student Alva Martinez said she was inspired to spread the video’s message to her classmates. “My mom shows us how to make better eating choices,” she said. “So I don’t eat fast food much. But after seeing this video, now I feel like telling others why fast food is bad.”