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Food Justice 1: Two New Yorks

In Economic Justice, Food Justice, New York City on November 24, 2006 at 4:00 pm

Liftwhileclimbing has decided to make our second theme Food Justice. Over the next month or so, we will try to place a focus on food and health issues, particularly in urban areas Prospect Parkwhere there is often a large disparity between different neighborhoods in terms of what types of food are available and how healthy that food is. We will place a focus on what problems are out there in terms of food, as well as on programs and organizations that are offering interesting ways of remedying the situation.

The example that I am the most familiar with is New York City, where you can have neighborhoods with a wide variety of specialty grocers and health food stores, while other neighborhoods have hardly any fresh produce or grocery stores at all.

In my neighborhood, Crown Heights, there are several grocery stores, but i still often find myslf bringing home a sack of goceries from stores in Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, or a green market, so that I can have healthier meals and better selections of produce. When it comes to restuarants, there are also very few healthy options (although there aren’t a lot of fast food chains, which is an advantage over other neighborhoods). Crown Heighst is just one example across the city, and its nowhere near the worst.

Earlier this week, Gotham Gazette ran an article on this very topic entitled “The Challenge of Eating Healthy.” This is the perfect article to kick off this topic for our blog. Some highlights are below:

A lot of attention is being paid to the split personality of the American diet. We live in both the United States of Arugula described in David Camp’s new book by the same name, where citizens “are demanding – and paying for – the freshest and least chemically treated products available”, and Fast Food Nation, depicted first in a book and now in a movie that opened on Friday, where meals consist of food that is dangerous to eat and environmentally damaging to produce. While evidence of America’s fitness fixation is everywhere, the rate of obesity has doubled in the last 20 years.

This contrast is particularly sharp in New York. The city tops Bon Appetit’s list of best “restaurant cities” in America, but has whole Zip codes without a single grocery store. The accompanying health problems are dismaying city officials. Over half of New Yorkers are overweight, and one in five is obese. Health Commissioner Thomas Freiden says that the related conditions of obesity and diabetes are the only health problems in the city getting worse.

These problems are particularly severe in low-income neighborhoods. The disparity of access to affordable, healthy food between New York’s wealthy and poor neighborhoods is regularly cited as a contributing factor, as Gotham Gazette wrote about last Thanksgiving in our article the Grocery Gap.

“It is not possible easily to get a healthy diet in many of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City,” said Freiden….

Food is a multibillion-dollar business in New York City. There are more than 1,100 grocery stores of at least 4,000 square feet. New Yorkers shop at gourmet groceries like Dean and Deluca or Zabar’s, ethnic specialty shops like Kalyustan’s (which carries dozens of different kinds of rice), a huge fish market open only late at night, and numerous markets where local farmers showcase their wares.

Despite all of that, many New Yorkers confront what the American Institute of Nutrition has called “food insecurity” – an inability, either because of money or availability, to get safe, nutritional food.“Where to Grab a Bite,” a 2004 survey by City Limits, looked at the number of grocery stores in each ZIP code. If it’s not surprising that affluent SoHo has the most places to buy food per resident, it is certainly startling to discover that several ZIP codes in Queens, including ones covering parts of College Point and Bayside, have no grocery stores at all. Overall, Manhattan has the most grocery stores per resident; Brooklyn the least.

Some in the food industry predict the grocery shortage could spread to more affluent areas as New York becomes an ever more expensive place to do business. “The better the neighborhood, the less supermarkets there are going to be” because rents are too high, said Morton Sloan, part owner of 10 Associated supermarkets in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Overall, said John Catsimatidis, the owner of Gristedes, the picture is “bleak” for grocery stores throughout the city, largely because of high rents. No one – from Whole Foods to the small mom and pop – is immune to the industry woes, he said, adding, “Something’s got to give….”

Numerous studies have shown that fresh produce, meat, and fish are hard to find in low-income neighborhoods. The New York Coalition Against Hunger recently mapped the availability of food resources across the city. It found that residents of low-income neighborhoods are forced to choose between bodegas and unhealthy restaurants because they lack access to larger grocery stores and farmers markets common in affluent areas. (See the interactive map).

Eight of every 10 food stores in Bedford Stuyvesant are bodegas, according to a study published this year by the city’s Department of Health. While almost every supermarket carries apples, oranges, and bananas, less than three in 10 bodegas do; supermarkets are also three times more likely to carry reduced fat milk.

Food stores generally lose money by carrying fresh fruit and vegetables, but supermarkets carry such products to attract customers, according to JC Dwyer, co-author of a recent report on food availability in three of the city’s poorest neighborhoods…

When bodegas do carry produce, it is generally much more expensive than it would be at a larger grocery store. In one study researchers found that a mango cost 67 cents at Pathmark, 79 cents at Associated — and $1.79 at an East Harlem bodega.

The article goes much more indepth, and I strongly recommend that people read it. It includes some of the impacts of the problem – including high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It also details some of the movements that are trying to remedy the situations, such as green markets, CSAs, campaigns for supermarkets in particular neighborhoods, tax breaks for grocers, and incentives for bodegas to sell low fat milk and produce.

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