Betty Isom gave the simmering yellow squash a few slow stirs. "The fried food is not good for you,” she announces, inhaling the steam from her pot. “Not good.”
Fried food is ubiquitous in Isom's home of South Memphis. The city is famous for its barbecue and fried chicken. In Shelby County, which includes Memphis, around 34 percent of adults are obese, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report. And 12 percent are also diabetic, reports the Tennessee Department of Health.
Eating healthy can be tough for many of the poor, elderly residents in Isom's community. The neighborhood is located in a food desert, where large grocery stores are at least a few miles away. Many residents don't have their cars, so they rely on friends, family and the city bus to get any fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We used to have a store,” said 60-year-old Isom, who struggles with high blood pressure. “We used to go and buy our vegetables and other items that we really need in the neighborhood... We don’t have one now since it closed.”
Many people now rely on small neighborhood convenience stores, where they can buy bread, canned food, chips and cookies. But nothing that you could call fresh. Isom is hoping to change that.