Monday, April 19, 2010

Fresh Food Fanatsies

The NY post editorializes today against the new Fresh Initiative being proposed by appointed senator Gillibrand: "Gillibrand has discovered so-called "food deserts" -- catchy social-work jargon meant to describe neighborhoods where relatively inexpensive, nutritious food is allegedly scarce.It shouldn't be taken at face value -- facts being such stubborn things. Gillibrand, for example, claims that "75 percent of Bronx neighborhoods do not have access to fresh foods." She has no first-hand knowledge of this, of course, never having actually visited a Bronx neighborhood while incubating her scheme."

And to an extent, the Post is right when it points out: "But a Post reporter made the pilgrimage last week -- and guess what: He discovered leafy greens in even the poorest areas. On one stretch of Third Avenue in Morrisania, he found two C-Town supermarkets in just an eight-block stretch -- both carrying a full selection of produce."

Gee, but aren't there any Green Carts? But seriously, the entire concept of Food Deserts lacks empirical justification, and any survey of the NYC neighborhoods-as the Post did-would discover a different reality, at least when it comes to supermarkets. But when the Post gets to cost, it is on less firm grounds-particularly when it uses Wal-Mart as a benchmark.

Here's their take: "The conventional wisdom is that the poor pay more for basic staples than most everyone else -- in particular, those suburbanites who do their grocery shopping at, say, Wal-Mart. But how much more do they pay? Well, a gallon of skim milk at the C-Town on Third Avenue and 162nd Street cost $3.59. At two Morton Williams locations near the Kingsbridge Armory, it was $3.99 -- or 30 percent higher than the $3.08 it commanded at the closest Wal-Mart store, in White Plains."

But what the Post is missing-and the missing link is the elephant in the boroughs-is just how much more expensive it is to do business in the city-what with the cost of rent, excess taxes and over-regulation. So the differential isn't about the great attraction of Wal-Mart, since the prices at suburban Shoprite and Stop and Shop will also knock your socks off in any comparison.

And the labor issue that the Post raises is a true red herring: "Another barrier: high labor costs -- a function of politically juiced unions throwing their weight around. Indeed, retail-union chief Stuart Appelbaum -- last seen killing thousands of jobs at the crumbling Kingsbridge Armory -- strongly supports Gillibrand's wrong-headed proposal. And why not? According to an aide, her bill explicitly tips the scale toward merchants who provide "quality jobs" and have "community support" -- that is, those who keep Applebaum and the usual array of local shakedown artists happy."

This is what we might charitably call, counter factual-since the aforementioned suburban Shoprites and Stop and Shops, as well as the Pathmarks and King Cullens, are all union shops; which means that labor costs are not the malevolent factor that the Post alleges. Which brings us back to the high cost of doing business in this town-a fact that Steve Malanga underscored right on the Op-Ed pages of the NY Post.

And the Post's view that somehow Wal-Mart would be the white knight for the city's poor? Only if obliterating small neighborhood-minority owned-business is how you envision Sir Galahad. And a study about the new Chicago Wal-Mart dramatizes the way in which the Walmonster will truly create the urban desert (

What does the study tell us about the mega store's impact? Here it is: "The opening of a Wal-Mart on the West Side of Chicago in 2006 led to the closure of about one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius, according to this study by researchers at Loyola University. They tracked 306 businesses, checking their status before Wal-Mart opened and one and two years after it opened. More than half were also surveyed by phone about employees, work hours, and wages. By the second year, 82 of the businesses had closed. Businesses within close proximity of Wal-Mart had a 40 percent chance of closing."

Oasis in one place, and desert everywhere else. So the introduction of Wal-Mart into NYC wouldn't be any panacea for the poor-and it would be an assault on minority entreprenuership. What the poor need in this city is good jobs with benefits-and the way to get them is to lower the costs of doing business in this town-something that the Post has always championed. By continuing along this path, rather than demonizing local retailers and labor chief Appelbaum-the Post will do New York's workers and the poor a real public service.