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For Common, wielding fruits, veggies can help fight food deserts

Common came home to Chicago to talk about the need to make fresh fruits and vegetables more readily available in urban food deserts. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Brussels sprouts are cool.

That’s how Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper/actor Common views them these days.

“The veggies I liked growing up were corn and sweet potatoes and, for some reason, spinach,” says Common, back home in Chicago to raise awareness for an effort aimed at combating urban food deserts — low-income communities where people have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables due to w lack of supermarkets and even smaller grocery stores in their neighborhoods. “But now I like Brussels sprouts. They serve them in some really great restaurants, and they’re done well,” he adds, with a big smile.

Born and raised in Chicago, Common — whose movie credits include “Selma,” “Smokin’ Aces,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut” and “Suicide Squad” — returned last week as an ambassador for the #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign.

It’s sponsored by Naked Juice, which kicked off the campaign with a 250,000-pound contribution — the monetary equivalent of fruits and vegetables to be donated. It’s asking people to post a selfie holding a fresh fruit or veggie) on social media with the hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood. For each selfie, the juice company says it will donate an additional 10 pounds of fresh produce — up to $500,000 worth.

“It’s a way to give back and show love to the community,” Common, who also has his own Common Ground Foundation, says of his commitment to the food-desert project. “I’m an advocate for people in need. And when you have nearly 30 million people across America who don’t have access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables, including here in Chicago … it’s like you ask yourself, ‘What can I do to change it?’

“Health awareness, eating healthy fruits and vegetables and just taking care of yourself is important. … You ride through the neighborhoods, and you see a lot of the old places torn down. You don’t see the grocery stores that used to exist.”

There are signs of change coming in some food deserts in Chicago. Mariano’s, for instance, is slated to open a 74,000-square-foot store in Bronzeville. And Whole Foods is set to open in Englewood this fall.

Coming home is something Common — who has a new album, “Black America Again” due out in October — says he always looks forward to.

“I get to see my mom, my grandmother, my dear friends,” he says. “Just being around Chicagoans. I love hearing the way Chicagoans talk. It tough out here with the violence, but overall not only is this a beautiful city, but it’s beautiful people — down-to-earth, down-home, hardworking people.”

Here’s more of what Common had to say about the food-desert initiative:

QUESTION. It’s easier for some kids to grab a bag of potato chips than eat fruits or vegetables. What do you say to those kids, to motivate them to make better choices?

ANSWER: You have to balance it. Eating fruits and vegetables will make you feel better. You’ll look better. You’ll be able to do things you want to do at a better level, a clearer level. You’ll have more energy. Just eating chips every day or a bunch of candy will contribute to diseases. And you’re just sluggish and don’t look as refreshed.

“I feel like [in Chicago] you ride through the neighborhoods and you see a lot of the old places torn down. You don’t see the grocery stores that used to exist,” says rapper Common about the food desert plaguing America’s cities. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
“I feel like [in Chicago] you ride through the neighborhoods and you see a lot of the old places torn down. You don’t see the grocery stores that used to exist,” says rapper Common about the food desert plaguing America’s cities. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Q. You’re passionate about this.

A. I talked to a nutritionist who really believes [ending food deserts] can help heal our neighborhoods. On top of the fact that the fresh foods are already more costly, you have to pay for the bus. Hopefully, I’m becoming a part of the solution. All you have to do is take a selfie and use the hashtag. That’s one thing we all can do.

Q. How do you stay fit?

A. I work out four days a week usually. It gives me a time to get things off my mind while taking care of myself. You want to try to feed yourself the best things you can while staying as active as you can.

Q. You have a lot of kids who look up to you. Do you feel the weight of that?

A. I do feel that responsibility. I really believe in the notion, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That whole thought that if you are given the chance to have a microphone, be interviewed, be on TV, how are you gonna utilize that time? There has to be something you can do to help move the world to a better place.

I’m not Dr. Martin Luther King. I haven’t been able to move the meter. But I’m working on it. I have been given the platform, been given the microphone, been given the opportunity to talk and be an example. I’m a doer. I’m just looking to do more.

Q. So does it count if you have veggies on a Chicago-style pizza?

A. [Laughs.] Just enjoy the pizza, and then go eat your vegetables!