Friday, July 17, 2009

Fruitless Reporting

The Gotham Gazette has a post on what it describes as, the "drought" in the outer boroughs in regards to the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables: "Fruit stands are Manhattan's new hot dog vendor, minus the mustard and ketchup. Their street corner takeover has sparked some New Yorkers, like Upper East Sider Jamie Kayam, to carp that their neighborhood is oversaturated with apples, bananas and overly ripe white cherries. "In NYC, buying fruits and vegetables has never been easier!" Kayam wrote in an e-mail to Gotham Gazette and The Huffington Post. "When recently discussing life in the city with some friends, a key complaint that came up was that there are too many fruit stands in Manhattan!"

So, given the saturation of such vendors in Manhattan, did the GG think it might be wise to examine how these low overhead scavengers are: (1) Causing extreme congestion and overrunning certain neighborhoods; and, (2) Having a deleterious impact on the stores whose taxes keep the city budget balanced?

Apparently not, since the objective here is to, once again, hammer home the fact that, outside of Manhattan, veggie peddlers are scarce-as are the produce carrying supermarkets and other such food stores: "But out of Manhattan, greens get elusive. In the South Bronx, residents have about half of that supermarket space. In Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant, 82 percent of retailers are unlikely to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and in some areas of Upper Manhattan that number increases to 90 percent, according to city planning."

In the outer boroughs, over relying on stats from the Department of City Planning, the GG finds a, "produce desert." So, what's the underlying reason for this phenomenon? The authors of the post don't bother to explore any of the reasons for the neighborhood disparity. But, how about letting us do it for them?

Number one, is the question of demand. Where demand is high, peddlers flood an area in pursuit of the paying customers-and check out this confirmation from a recent NY Times story. And, in the process, they cannibalize business from stores that are paying exorbitant rents and confiscatory taxes. In addition, the level of health awareness in the produce deserts is lower-along with the incomes necessary to support a greater number of retail outlets.

Number two, is the income levels themselves. It's quite silly to compare supermarket density of low income and high income areas-and anyway, we are losing many of those markets from Manhattan as the cost of doing business-courtesy of the "luxury product" Bloomberg-continues to rise.

So, let's be clear here. Both the abundance, as well as the dearth of peddlers in certain nabes, has policy implications. But to see the issue solely through the lens of health, and not from a larger macro perspective, only will lead to silly initiatives like the Green Carts legislation. More care needs to be given to nurturing the health of the city's small business; or else we will end up-something accelerated by ObamaCare-with a fully health insured out of work populace.