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Can Applesauce Help Close The Racial Health Gap? No, Wait, Hear This Chef Out

Chef Tunde Wey sitting on stairs

Chef Tunde Wey uses food as a tool for social justice. His company, BabyZoos, aims to use profits from the sale of applesauce to hospitals to fund ventures that create more economic opportunities for African Americans in an effort to close racial wealth — and health — gaps. (L. Kasimu Harris for NPR)

For many people, a package of applesauce is simply a convenient lunchbox staple or a snack you turn to when you're feeling sick or can't keep much else down. But when Tunde Wey looks at applesauce, he sees a tool for social justice.

Wey is the founder of BabyZoos, a start-up food company focusing its work in Kalamazoo, Mich. He launched the company this year after learning a startling statistic: Black infants born in Kalamazoo County are three times as likely to die before their first birthday as white children. In 2017, that translated into 320 deaths out of nearly 22,000 African American babies born in the state. Nationwide, black babies are more than twice as likely to die before turning 1 as their white counterparts.

In fact, from access to cancer treatments to mental health care and beyond, such racial health disparities abound — and are particularly stark between African Americans and whites. One reason for this is what researchers call the social determinants of health — the broad array of factors, from housing and job opportunities to schooling and pollution exposure, that play a huge role in our well-being.

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