In the October issue of O: the Oprah Magazine, I write about food justice rapper DJ CaveM, who wants to make OGs—organic gardeners—out of Denver youth.
DJ Cavem & Rebel Diaz rap about Food Justice (at 3.25 minutes)
“A lot of people in our community say, ‘Diabetes runs in my family,‘ And we’re like, ‘No it’s because no one RUNS in your family!’” says 27-year-old Denver rapper/gardener/activist DJ CaveM to a packed TEDxYouth conference in Denver. The line elicits titters from the crowd—but diet-related disease is no laughing matter for DJ CaveM.
Growing up in Five Points, Denver, DJ CaveM—whose given name is Ietef Vita—passed a youth penitentiary, a fast food joint, and a liquor store every day on his walk to school. The scenery in the neighborhood hasn’t changed much since then—and obesity and type 2 diabetes rates are rampant in the community as well as in Vita’s extended family.
Vita, whose great grandfather was a sharecropper, is determined to change this pattern. Armed with a Vitamix blender, a turntable, and wickedly clever rap lyrics, he and his wife Neambe visit Denver public schools bearing a message of environmental activism and food justice. In their workshop, “Going Green, Living Bling: Redefining the Image of Wealth,” the Vitas explain Big Food’s culpability in the obesity epidemic and teach kids how to grow organic food—and green jobs—in the inner city. (“I tell them, ‘Yes, you can do this—grow food and legally sell it at the farmers market and everybody can buy it!”) While sipping kale smoothies and tasting quinoa for the first time, the kids are won over by Vita’s lyrics, delivered as they are in a charismatic package. In “Food Justice” he raps:
To start a family
You need some land
Some clean water
And a garden plan
You can use a shovel
But I like a hoe
Drop the seed down
Let the water flow
In their Going Green day camp this summer, the Vitas asked kids for help composing a remix of “Hot Cheetos and Takis,” a popular music video about the processed snacks—made with genetically modified ingredients and red dye No. 40—which are marketed heavily in low-income black neighborhoods.
“We’re calling the remix ‘Brown Rice and Broccoli,” says Vita. “We like to keep it really fresh.”