I was pleasantly surprised to read a Tweet yesterday about veteran rapper Fat Joe having lost nearly 90 lbs. and wanting to advocate for weight loss among urban dwellers. Initially speaking out in a video, I read about the story at Frugivore.
In the video, Fat Joe talks about loving to eat, but ultimately loving life more. After losing his friend and Terror Squad label marquee rapper Big Pun to a heart attack at the age of 27 more than 10 years ago, the man also known as Joey Cartagena revealed the tipping point for his lifestyle change:
“Everybody keep catching strokes and heart attacks. And what happened to me was like seven of my friends passed last year from heart attacks, and they were all 32, 34 years old, 35, and I said, you know, ‘I got kids, I can’t leave them like that.’ You know, this world is too hard for me to leave my kids without me supervising them and being there for them. If Fat Joe, F-A-T J-O-E, fattest guy you know, can lose some weight, you can lose some too, man, just cut back on the carbs and work out. Don’t go up in KFC, don’t go up in McDonalds, don’t go up in Burger King, don’t go up in none of that stuff. If it ain’t some baked food, some grilled chicken, some, you know… don’t. That way, you can be around for your families.”
I remember bumping “Flow Joe” and “Watch the Sound” toward the end of my high school career. One of my first published writing jobs was crafting someone’s audio interview of Fat Joe, in the early 90s, into an article for a magazine, so I have a long memory of this guy. There’s a reason why he took the moniker “Fat.” As he indicates in the video, he had been significantly overweight for a very long time.
But now, he has changed course. And he admits that food is often “a fix” for people, and that the change is hard (“God willing, I’m able to keep fighting this fight and just remain healthy,” he says), but that the reality is “the biggest killer of people is food. It kills more people than AIDS, or gun violence, or war, or anything you can name.” Over the course of life, an unhealthy relationship with food certainly leads to complications and death for far too many. According to a 2002 World Health Organization report,
Cardiovascular diseases kill more people each year-in high, middle- and low-income countries alike–
than any others. In 2002, 7.2 million people died of coronary heart disease, 5.5 million from stroke or
another form of cerebrovascular disease.
Having experienced the physical and mental freedom that comes from losing weight myself; having had my doctor recently call me a “healthy young woman;” having lived with hypertension for about a year at age 30 and feeling now at 35 that, God willing, I may be able to avoid having high blood pressure again, I understand his new outlook and applaud it.
Erin Evans joked (or maybe not?) on The Root that Fat Joe, having lost 88 lbs. and having such strong feelings about avoiding fast food and sugary candies and drinks at the bodega, should be a spokesperson for First Lady Michele Obama’s health initiatives. If this doesn’t materialize, I hope that Joe (just doesn’t feel right calling him Fat anymore, does it?) will continue to speak out on his own. Misuse of food as medicine, as a drug, as a lover or friend is a hard habit to break for just about any kind of person you can think of–but certainly disproportionately for Latinos and African Americans, and for people of meager financial means of all colors and ethnicities, really. Medical conditions aside, for most, it all boils down to a mix of too much of a good thing and an unfortunate way that people choose to stuff down negative feelings, in my opinion.
Nas and Busta Rhymes spoke critically of our addiction with unhealthy foods a few years back, on the song “Fried Chicken,” but that attempt at caution was almost drowned out by the food p0rn nature of the majority of the lyrics. Joe offered up a lot of sage wisdom with an emotional appeal on the impact on family legacy that can’t be denied. I pray that his story–and his success at losing weight–will inspire others to make a change for the better for themselves, and for their loved ones.