Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ill-Gotten Fruits

In this morning's NY Daily News we learn exactly why it makes no sense to get all of your information from government sources. In an editorial supporting the green carts legislation, the paper relies exclusively on official government data to proclaim: "Across the city, there are neighborhoods where it is difficult - or virtually impossible - to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Of good quality, too. Which is why the City Council is to vote tomorrow on an innovative plan to put produce in those areas."

But that's just the point that the News refuses to take an honest look at, so enamored as it is with spouting the official government line. The neighborhoods where access is limited are few and far between-and Intro 665 fails to distinguish the few "food deserts" from the vibrant shopping strips that the peddlers are certain to gravitate towards in search of the business traffic that's heading to the local supermarket and green grocer.

The sad fact is that the city failed to due the mapping that would have precisely targeted where peddlers could rationally be expected to provide access to produce where it was difficult to find it. Instead we get the old reliable "government survey:" "A Health Department study found that in poorer neighborhoods - like Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and Harlem - most of the food stores are bodegas that don't sell fresh fruit and veggies. As little as 20% to 40% of the bodegas in those three neighborhoods sold apples, oranges and bananas, and only 2% to 6% sold leafy green vegetables."

Put simply, this is pure bull crap; with independent supermarkets prevalent in all of the neighborhoods in question it's invidious, to say the least, to focus on bodegas that the department itself has found are trying to provide some produce as well. The News editorial board should try to get out more often into our city neighborhoods. And so should our health commissioner who didn't realize that the city had over 2,000 green grocers selling fresh produce in many of the communities that are targeted by the green cart bill; but if the editorialists did, they would have actual data of their own to make some reasoned judgments.

Which brings us to this editorial whopper: "To placate the opposition, Bloomberg and Quinn cut the number of permits from 1,500 to 1,000. They promise to strictly enforce compliance to make sure vendors don't steal customers by parking outside grocery shops." This last assertion is blatantly false and the News would have known better if it had simply paid attention and asked us; rather than listen with a perfunctory ear to our explanation yesterday.

The fact is that there will be no barriers in place to prevent the peddlers from operating directly in front of the produce outlets; the city's lawyers have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that the law forbids this-a fact that we have disputed. Why the News would dissemble here is hard to explain; although it's likely simple misinformation at work for a hastily written government press release.

Compounding the mistake about cart placement, the News concludes with the following: "Which shouldn't be a problem anyway, since the permits are for areas where few grocers sell produce." We can't wait for the News' expose after carts are sent out. The one sure thing here is that peddlers will stay close to shopping areas where the produce is being sold, and any "roaring success" that results will be business that is taken from the tax paying small businesses that the Daily News has never defended in the twenty five years we've been representing their interests.