On Blacks and Fat: Chef Aaron McCargo Jr.

This celebrity chef says that we have to get real about options for healthy eating in the hood.

Aaron McCargo Jr. (Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- Obesity is more common in African Americans than in other ethnic groups. But when it comes to black people and weight, that's where the agreement seems to end. Is food the culprit? Is exercise the solution? Is there even a real problem to begin with, or should we be focusing on health -- or even self-acceptance -- rather than the number on the scale?

Against the backdrop of a first lady's mission to slim down the nation's kids, black celebs getting endorsements after shedding inches and a booming weight-loss industry, The Root will publish a series of interviews with medical professionals, activists and fitness enthusiasts that reveal the complexity of this issue and the range of approaches to it.

For the sixth in the series, The Root talked to chef Aaron McCargo Jr. The winner of the Food Network's The Next Food Network Star and host of Big Daddy's House, he's a participant in Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools initiative, a program created by the first lady to battle childhood obesity in America.

Read the rest of the interviews in the series here, and check out The Root's other obesity coverage here.

The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely as whites to be obese. What's going on, from your perspective, with black people, obesity and overall health?

Aaron McCargo Jr.: It has to do with upbringing as well as availability of healthy food. It's the way we were raised. The things that we're used to eating are always the things that were either high in sodium, high in fat or high in sugar.

I try to be aware of that in my own cooking. For example, I remember, growing up, my mom using lard to fry chicken in Crisco, which gave you the crispiest chicken. But until I gained knowledge of cooking, I didn't know that while cooking in canola oil was totally different, I could still get similar results. Now I'm not a lard user; I don't use a lot of sugar. You can change a lot of things in a recipe and still get great-tasting food.

Also, you hear a lot about the sustainable farmer, having more green and more organic foods at the table, etc., but those things aren't always realistic in the city. Even prior to the economy taking a dive, these were just not things many of us could afford to put on our tables.

You couldn't go where I'm from in Camden, N.J., and go buy a bucket of peaches every day or a basket of tomatoes. I try to keep it real and say that's not happening in the hood. I hear a lot of outsiders say, "If it's really important to you, you'll make a way." But you know what? If I've got four or five kids, a part-time job, and I'm in school, I don't have time to go to the suburbs or a farm and buy these things.

TR: When it comes to African Americans and obesity, what is the biggest myth or misunderstanding?