Grocery stores have become a big controversy in my neighborhood.
Rents in the city are high and seem to inevitably climb higher. This makes it hard to run small businesses and shops, especially when landlords get greedy. Essential services like grocers, cobblers, bakers and florists are, not so slowly, being replaced by banks and pharmacies.
The chain of events goes like this: You realize you need your shoe fixed. You start looking around and out of nowhere you realize that, every day for the past five years, you’ve walked past a cobbler on your way to the subway. You bring your shoes to the cobbler and fall in love with the delightful, ancient, Russian man who’s hands are dyed by his trade and move on their own while he sits and gossips and tells tales. He fixes your shoes and you leave, vowing to return as soon as possible. And then you forget.
And then, by the next time you need a pair of shoes fixed, he’s gone; replaced by another CVS or Walgreen’s or Chase or Capital One.
This is happening endlessly all over the city, not just in Manhattan but also in the outer boroughs. The necessities of life are being replaced by things that no one needs or wants in their neighborhoods, to the detriment of people’s health.
This situation is currently burning through Bay Ridge slowly and deliberately. There’s been huge controversy because one of the last, larger grocery stores is being closed, to be replaced by, yep, another pharmacy. My neighbors are, to say the least, up in arms about this. But, I do not agree with them.
One of the reasons I wanted to move to Bay Ridge is because it is such a great food neighborhood; and one of the things that makes it so great is its amazing proliferation of small, independent, family-owned ethnic grocery stores. I can think of at least three dozen places to shop for wonderful, fresh, delicious food within a 20 block radius of my apartment.
But this doesn’t seem to be the mindset of my neighbors. “Oh no! Where will we shop now?” None of them seem to be stopping and asking why the grocery stores are fleeing. I mean, there has to be a reason, right? Chain groceries don’t just up and leave for no good reason, do they? No, they do not. And I think I know why.
Bay Ridge is a car neighborhood. People drive here as if they’re living in suburban Denver or Los Angeles. If you’ve got a car, why on earth would you shop at the cramped, expensive Key Food in Bay Ridge when you can hop in your SUV and drive to Costco or Fairway or the enormous Price Chopper out in Sheepshead Bay?
Cars are also to blame for Bay Ridge not having a greenmarket. The city tried to give us one, but no. “We” told the city “no thanks” because it would take away parking. At a church. On Saturday. Because, so many Catholics go to church on Saturdays, right?
But one gentleman in the neighborhood has a plan. He has proposed a co-op. Where everyone pools their money and shopping lists and… Drives to big grocery stores and buys Triscuits and beer. Here’s the perfect chance to do something exciting for the neighborhood. We could start a CSA! Or go back to the city and say, “Hey, you know what? We really do want that greenmarket!” But no.
It seems shocking to me that between gas at $4.45, the neighborhood’s eye-popping obesity problem and our brush with global warming (tornado in Brooklyn anyone?) my neighbors are sill so reluctant to embrace steps that can improve their health and the health of the neighborhood; like using public transport, walking and supporting small, local, independent grocers.
I’ve never lived in another neighborhood that has two quality fishmongers, two amazing butchers (one of whom is also a sausage maker!) and purveyors of decent, reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables every couple of blocks.
And, as if that’s not enough, the city’s marquee greenmarket sits at the other end of the subway line that runs right through our neighborhood. Four days a week, the region’s very best produce, cheese and meats are available for everyone.
And then, there’s the yards. So many people have both front and backyards in this neighborhood, but what do they use them for? Parking, of course. What could they use them for? Even though I think this guy went a little overboard, there’s lots to learn from him. With a little knowledge, a little exertion and a little patience, it is possible to grow your own fresh, safe, healthy and delicious greens, beans and tomatoes in your own backyard.
But, I fear I have run overlong on a topic that I find endlessly interesting, but which has, at this point, possibly bored you to tears! So, in return for listening to my rant, I offer you a delicious recipe for a seasonal, healthy, tasty pasta dinner.
All the ingredients can be purchased at the greenmarket, or, if you’re lucky, pulled from your own backyard.
Head below the jump for the recipe for Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas.