Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Daily News in Vegetative State

Nothing could illustrate our point about the need to collect accurate data about the location of the city's supermarkets, green grocers and bodegas (at least those that do provide fresh produce), than the piece in this morning's Brooklyn section of the NY Daily News on the introduction of 350 produce peddlers into the borough after the passage of Intro 665.

The article, relying almost exclusively on unverified and tendentious anecdotal data reinforces the reporter's preconceptions rather than providing a fair analysis of the retail realities in Brooklyn: "Twice a month, Fort Greene resident Alvira Gorham makes an expensive, hours-long pilgrimage for a basic necessity — food. Gorham takes two buses to a Brownsville supermarket and then spends $20 of her Social Security disability check on a cab to shuttle the groceries back to her apartment in the Farragut Houses. "We have nothing fresh here," said Gorham, 54. "We need someplace where we could shop and eat decently."

Well, let's see, the Farragut Houses happen to be right across the street from the Myrtle Avenue Associated Supermarket that was closed when the shopping strip was demolished to make way for luxury housing. Many residents of the project are being bused to Pathmark at Atlantic Center in an effort sponsored by Furee, a local community group, and by Local 1500 of the UFCW. Possibly somewhat of an anomaly?

Which is what happens when you use anecdotal evidence and eschew the data collection process-something that, ironically, was done in much more comprehensive fashion by a blogger at BushwickBK.com. Jeremy, the Bushwick blogger posted a map of the neighborhood that pinpointed the existence of 17 supermarkets; in a community that has been singled out by the city as bereft of retail produce out lets. As Jeremy points out: "There already are stores selling fresh produce all over these neighborhoods. Within a few blocks of my house, I have a full-size grocery store selling tons of fresh fruit, a handful of proper storefront fruit stands, and tens of bodegas which, despite legends suggesting the contrary, have plenty of fresh produce for the veggie enthusiast who has no time to walk another two blocks to the fruit stand and needs her mango right this second."

Apparently, the Daily News couldn't find the likes of Jeremy anywhere, but that's not surprising when you begin to write a story with preconceived views and are afraid of confronting any cognitive dissonance. As we've mentioned before, the same story that Jeremy relates could have been found in Crown Heights along Utica Avenue and on Fifth Avenue or Graham Avenue in other Brooklyn nabes that are targeted by the fruit folks.

Instead the News gets this quote: "The food groups around here are fried chicken, Big Macs and chocolate shakes," said Michele Balborvi, 30, of Crown Heights. "Green carts would be a terrific idea." If the reporter had ventured over to Eastern Parkway and Utica, she would have discovered ample evidence that the woman's observations were, if not just completely wrong, at least contradicted by the sheer number of produce outlets. Another reality is that many folks are convinced that there communities are being victimized even when the evidence may prove contradictory.

The reporter does allow us to point out that the green carts bill fails to control where the peddlers will locate, a failure that almost guarantees that the precepts of the legislation won't be achieved: "But Richard Lipsky, spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, which represents bodegas, supermarkets and green markets, said the bill doesn't control where the vendors will peddle their produce. "We're not arguing that there may be some neighborhoods that lack access," Lipsky said. "If you don't target specifically areas that lack access, the vendors will gravitate toward the most active areas that already have produce outlets," he said, expressing concern the vendors, who don't have to pay rent, will undersell the stores."

She does, however, juxtapose our remarks with the following: "Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Dan Brady, 30, said there's no one to undersell in his neighborhood. "Look around - do you see fruits and vegetables? There's no green in Bed-Stuy," he said." Well, if the News did the look around it would have at least discovered the recently renovated 30,000 sq. ft. Foodtown at Restoration Plaza on Fulton, and many more outlets as well in the neighborhood; but, hey, why ruin a good quote?

And our buddy Jeremy makes the demand point as well: "The other is that fruits and vegetables are not overflowing in abundance on every corner in Bushwick and, say, Bed-Stuy, because they are not as much in demand as in fancy-pants Manhattan or what I imagine is a vegetarian-heavy Jackson Heights."

So we're back with the main point that we've been emphasizing all along: if we're going to make food policy let's proceed with a modicum of real world data-and if we're going to use survey instruments please take them out of the hands of ideologues who are looking to confirm their own prejudices. So far, this approach has yet to begin.