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The green Brooklyn

photo by Homer Ulanday


The biggest borough in New York City also happens to be the greenest. With parks, community organizations and a variety of businesses, it leads in citywide efforts to better the quality of life and protect the environment.

Brooklyn is conveniently located on the westernmost part of Long Island, right between Manhattan and the suburbs, with access to three main city bridges and an array of highways. It offers cheaper rents than Manhattan, with market reports showing commercial space fees starting at $29 per square foot in downtown Brooklyn compared to $40 in downtown Manhattan. It has a younger population with 22-55 year-olds, and high percentages of children under 14, that are more involved with green living than older generations and support green businesses.

But the notion of being green is still developing. So what exactly is a green business and how do you start one so that green lifestyle followers support it?

At the simplest level, green businesses use recycled products to build or decorate their locales. They also avoid wasting energy and water; they recycle and many times donate food or funds to charities. They also use products and resources from local vendors or fair-trade suppliers.

And according to Green America, a non-profit organization advocating for social justice, a green enterprise helps solve social and environmental issues by adopting principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for people and the environment. The Web site Business.gov offers guides to start green businesses based on these ideas, too. It advises entrepreneurs to “find a niche market, get certified as environmentally sound,” and “practice what you preach.”

In 2007 Jennie Dundas and her best friend Alexis Miesen decided to try this approach. Miesen wanted to sell ice cream in Park Slope, after noticing there were few ice cream shops there. Dundas liked the prospect, but was equally interested in being environmentally conscious. With little knowledge, they began their research and their business plan.

“You basically ask yourself with every decision, ‘is this the greenest decision I could make?’” Dundas said. “I think this is the wave of the future, once there’s enough of us doing this there’s not going to be a chance to go back.”

Dundas and Miesen invested time and money to start their shop in the borough they both lived, worked in, and loved. Unfortunately, despite good karma and a plethora of non-profit organizations that rally for greener options, there’s still no set model that businesses can follow. The women relied on Brooklyn non-profits to get information about recycled building products, estimates for energy efficiency and contacts to local farmers. Gathering the tools was a community process since opening green businesses is still a “trend” rather than a “norm” as Dundas said.

By August 2007 the two women had a designer, construction crew and suppliers. They learned that going green not only takes research, but also lots of money. Their recycled glass counter, for example, cost between $90-$200 per square foot. High prices expanded to the food supplies too. Their organic heavy cream, from locally raised, grass-only fed cows, costs $18 per gallon, triple the cost that mass food suppliers retail heavy cream for. After a $200,000 investment, their ice cream shop, Blue Marble Ice Cream, was opened in October of 2007.

Picture 3Two years later the business is going, with cones starting at $2.50, rivaling Ben and Jerry’s $3.25 price. Additionally, the businesswomen opened a second location in Brooklyn, in Boerum Hill.  However, Dundas said that the moral benefits of being eco-friendly take a toll on the monetary gains. In order to maintain the two businesses, the partners must dig into their profits. Although the second shop was easier and cheaper to start because it already had some green elements, they said that operating a green business became a mission rather than a way to get rich.

“We’re educating people, especially children, with our trash and recycling barrels. They learn about protecting the environment at school but they need to see the principles implemented in their community. Green lifestyles are possible and we’re proud we can run our business like we do,” Dundas said.

Although Brooklyn has more people like Dindas and Meisen around to start businesses, other boroughs are also capitalizing on this movement.

“Brooklyn tends to be less expensive across all property types relative to Manhattan,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and CEO at Miller Samuel Inc. a real estate appraisal firm. “While the green phenomenon is a trend in Brooklyn it’s not unique to Brooklyn. What began as a marketing gimmick has evolved into a baseline amenity fueled by rising demand of green-aware consumers.”

In Brooklyn, its community seems to have made it a priority.

“Its nickname is the ‘People’s Republic of Brooklyn’ because it’s a progressive borough; it’s the most progressive borough of all boroughs. That general consciousness is focused on the environment right now because people realize we need to help in small or large ways and they want to be responsible,” said Nancy Romer. She has lived in Brooklyn for 36 years and helps lead the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a group advocating for more sustainable organic food options and green businesses in the borough.

And Brooklyn may just continue being a different and innovative place.
“I grew up in a city of neighborhoods that were created by immigrants so we would buy the specialty foods they made… people were welcoming and grew food in their gardens or would raise animals and have rotisserie spits in their back yard,” said Annie Hauck-Lawson, associate professor of foods and nutrition at Brooklyn College and co-author of New York based food book, Gastropolis. “We are such a diverse and creative community that will stay true to its roots and keep living from the earth and welcoming people.”

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Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)


In time-honored New York style, the mayoral candidates are eating their way to the campaign finish line.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge, racking up votes with hot dogs at Nathan’s, a second helping of pickles at the Queens County Fair and even a “Mike Bloomberg sandwich” at Lioni’s Italian Heroes in Bensonhurst. “Next time, put some hot peppers on it!” was the incumbent’s verdict on the pastrami, mozzarella and mustard sandwich.

But shrewd as Bloomberg is, few know their way to New York’s heart through its stomach — or enjoyed getting there as much – as well as Ed Koch, New York’s mayor from 1977 to 1989.

“Not as many politicians enjoyed food as much as Ed,” says Koch’s former press secretary and former New York Post political writer George Arzt. “He ate a lot more than Bloomberg does.”

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries.  Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries. Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

For Koch, eating on the campaign trail, whether stopping at a street vendor or taking a slice of pizza offered by a local shop owner – and always smiling for the cameras – was not just about scoring votes. It was about being polite.

“You’re there, you’re campaigning and if someone offers you a pizza, to turn it down is plain rude and stupid,” says Koch, now 84, in his Midtown office at law firm Bryan Cave. It was also simply about eating.

A gourmand who these days twirls capellini pasta at high-end diners like the West Village’s Il Mulino and Trattoria Dell’arte on Seventh Avenue, Koch says he relished the pizza, deli sandwiches and hot dogs “with the real casing” that he ate while campaigning for mayor in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Unlike some candidates, who may discreetly pass half-eaten knishes or pizza slices off to an aide before moving on to the next photo op, Koch boasts: “I ate the whole thing.”

It was a way of showing respect to voters, says Koch. “People want to show their community at its best,” he says. “The best and quickest way to do that is by offering some food that the community feels especially proud of.”

Joyce Purnick, who covered New York politics for 35 years for the New York Post and New York Times, agrees with Koch’s food philosophy. She says it’s particularly important for politicians to have a big appetite in the Big Apple.

“Favorite dishes are a matter of ethnic pride, or even regional identity in the politics of New York,” says Purnick, over the telephone. “It could be pizzas with Italians, burritos for Latinos or the hot dogs from Nathan’s. We all grow up eating certain foods on certain holidays and it’s very much a part of our culture.”

Former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from 1994-2005, puts it more bluntly. “You want a political debacle, turn down a regional specialty and watch the fallout from that one. It’s just like kissing babies: You’ve got to do it.”

Koch says he never turned down a meal on the campaign trail. Running for governor in 1982 against Mario Cuomo, whom he beat out for mayor in 1977, he was asked to milk a cow in upstate New York. He was then asked to drink the milk. He did.

“Milk directly from a cow is not so good because it’s hot,” says Koch. “I like cold milk, but not direct from the cow. You just try not to show discomfort.”

His discomfort did show once, but not while campaigning. At a Bedouin feast he attended traveling between the Sinai desert and Israel, Koch was given sheep’s eyes, a local delicacy. “You’d take it and then secretly throw it over your shoulder,” he says. “The eye looks at you – very intimidating.”

Koch’s enthusiasm for food photo ops back home sometimes worried press secretary Arzt, particularly at dessert time. “You have to beware of chewing on camera, you have to beware of getting chocolate all over your face, you want the less messy foods when you’re going out,” says Arzt.

But Arzt says that the greater danger for politicians at food stops is the people they’re eating with. When a person approaches a hot-dog-chewing politician for a photograph, Arzt says, “The one thing that goes through the aides’ minds is, ‘Is the guy part of the mob?’”

To ensure he wasn’t snapped with a mobster, Koch would joke with anyone approaching, asking them to raise their right hands and swear they weren’t “a member of la Cosa Nostra.”

Eating your way to power can be more dangerous still for out-of-towners, as South Dakota Sen. George McGovern discovered while campaigning in New York for the 1972 Democratic presidential primary. McGovern ordered a kosher hot dog from a street vendor in Queens, along with a glass of milk. The Jewish community he was courting slammed him for the non-kosher combination.

More recently, President Obama was mocked by conservative pundits when he ordered a cheeseburger with spicy or Dijon mustard at an independent burger joint in Arlington, Va. Sean Hannity teased on Fox News, “I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President.”

Between photo-op pizzas, burgers and an on-the-run campaign diet of hot dogs, takeout, ice cream and soda, Koch struggled with his weight while in office. “It’s always easy to put on weight when you’re campaigning and eating junk food,” he says.

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Scheib, who as White House chef fed Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush, says the photo-op foods and gala dinners, sometimes 5 or 6 meals a day, also

took a toll on the first ladies. “They were thrilled just to get back to the White House and get back on a more low-cal nutritional diet, get their vegetables, lettuces and soups back in,” he says. “They’d come back off the campaign trail and get into a purge type of thing to get ready for the next wave of all this food.”

Since leaving office, Koch has used the private gym at Rockefeller Center most mornings to manage his weight and is comfortable giving advice to others on staying in shape. Visiting Ariel Sharon at his home in the Negev, in southern Israel, he told the former Israeli prime minister, “You’re getting too fat and you’re going to die prematurely.”

“He said, ‘I hardly eat,’” Koch recalls. “And, of course, that wasn’t true; he ate like a horse. He came to Gracie Mansion, where I lived, and he ate off everybody’s plate. I was amazed.”

But Koch himself has not been dieting lately.

From June to July, the former mayor spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had his aortic valve replaced. Slimmer than he’s ever looked, with suspenders holding up too-large pants, the older, more somber man than most New Yorkers remember, says he does not need to worry about what he eats for now.

“It was touch and go because of complications,” he says of the surgery. “I lost 26 pounds in the hospital and the doctor said that until I gain 10 pounds I was under no restriction. I left the hospital at the end of July and I’ve only gained back about four and a half pounds. I have six more pounds to go, during which period I can eat whatever I want.”

Ever the New York politician, Koch thanked the team of 20 hospital staffers who worked on him with a food stop worthy of a thousand Post flashbulbs – a dinner at Brooklyn’s 120-year-old Peter Luger Steak House.

He ordered a slab of steak, medium rare, and told his guests, “If any of you order anything other than steak, I am going to make it public.”

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Shock subway campaign warns of the dangers of sugary drinks


One of three new posters in NYC subways highlighting the dangers of sugar-sweetened drinks. (Courtesy of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)

One of three new posters in NYC subways highlighting the dangers of sugar-sweetened drinks. (Photo: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)

Subway commuters are this month faced with posters featuring soda, iced tea and a “sports” drink congealing into veiny human fat as they are poured into a glass. The ads ask, “Are you pouring on the pounds?” They then suggest: “Go with water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead.”

The Health Department’s director of physical and nutrition programs, Cathy Nonas, says the $277,000 campaign will first shock, then teach. “For those of you who had no idea you could be consuming 51 teaspoons of sugar and 500 to 700 calories just from drinking two to three sweetened beverages, now you know,” says Nonas.

It’s the latest public service campaign using the subway to change New Yorkers’ bad habits, joining the likes of graphic anti-smoking drives. The new ads began appearing in 1,500 subway cars last week and will be there for three months, courtesy of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. They aim to get commuters looking up, around and learning. But similar campaigns have met with varying levels of success in recent years.

Bart Robbett, who has created subway ads at Robbett Advocacy Media for 20 years, says subway campaigns work if they fit into their environment.  “Subway ads need to cut through the clutter,” says Robbett, who teaches strategies of political communication in the Elections and Campaign Management Program at Fordham University. “They should channel the emotions, whether it be anger, fear or humor. Then they must have a very clear call to action.”

He cites the Department of Homeless Service’s eye-catching drive from last year as an effective campaign. The ads featured black-and-white portraits of the city’s homeless along with the line “Give the Homeless the Kind of Change They Can Really Use.” The poster then urges riders to call 311 for a team to assist a homeless person.

The Department of Homeless Services says they have had a significant response to this campaign, launched in subway trains and stations last year, and relaunched this July. (Courtesy of the Department of Homeless Services)

This campaign, launched in subway trains and stations last year, was relaunched this July. (Photo: Department of Homeless Services)

“In fiscal year 2009, 311 received an average of 20 calls per day, requesting that outreach teams be deployed,” says department spokeswoman Kristy Buller. Though she was unable to supply similar data for the previous year, Buller says that the 2009 Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) counted 2,328 homeless people in the city, a 47 percent reduction from 2005. Combined with other efforts in the department and throughout the city, the ad is having an impact, enough so that one the department relaunched it this July with 2,400 posters in trains and 400 larger posters in stations.

In 2007, as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s aggressive attack on smoking, subway riders were reintroduced to Ronaldo Martinez, who lost his larynx to throat cancer and who was featured in a series of anti-smoking TV spots in 2000. In a new set of subway ads, Martinez faced viewers directly while pressing a microphone to his throat. The poster read, “Nothing Will Ever Be the Same.”

The campaign was part of a large-scale TV, subway, print and online campaign that some say has helped to drive New York’s smoking rates to their lowest on record: Fewer than 1 million adult smokers in the city, according to the Health Department. But the campaign also featured a three-week giveaway of patches and nicotine gum, and, in the same period, state and federal taxes pushed cigarette prices to an unprecedented average of $9 a pack.

Unlike anti-smoking campaigns, there will be no accompanying tax hike to the new sugary beverage campaign — an 18 percent state tax increase on sugary drinks was nixed early this year, though the idea is not completely dead — no television ads and no free patches to help the over two million New Yorkers, who, according to the Health Department, drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Robbett worries that the lesson may not get through. He says the “Are you pouring on the pounds?” campaign connects on an emotional level — “self-consciousness and a degree of disgust” — but faces a rougher track than past campaigns. Putting down the bottle is sometimes harder than picking up the phone, either to call 311 for a free pack of gum or to report a homeless person.

He points out that unlike the homelessness and anti-smoking ads, which feature a slab of text explaining the problem, there is nothing similar on the new posters to explain the calorie content of the drinks and its links to obesity. “And to get people to change their behavior, it’s a tough sell,” he says.

Nonas agrees. “The campaign aims to educate. At the end of the day what you do with your body is up to you.”

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For gluten intolerant, happy hour is getting happier

The Dive Bar in Manhattan's Morningside Heights (Courtesy: Dive Bar)

The Dive Bar in Manhattan's Morningside Heights. (Photo: Dive Bar)


Andrue Kahn, a 25 year-old master’s student at Jewish Theological Seminary, had digestive and health issues for most of his life.  At 17 he was told that he had celiac disease.

People with this condition cannot tolerate gluten, a protein that exists in wheat, rye, and barley, as well as in many medications and processed foods.  Their immune systems react to it by damaging their small intestine so that it cannot absorb certain nutrients.

Since his diagnosis, Kahn has observed a relatively strict gluten-free diet.  His health has improved, but he misses many of his favorite foods, like pizza, sandwiches and especially, beer.

Kahn could find gluten-free beers in certain specialty stores in Portland and Seattle, where he divided his time, but was unable to drink beer in pubs.  Being publicly relegated to wine, ciders, and certain liquors made him feel excluded from bar culture.

He said, “It really sucks when I’m sitting around with a few people, and everyone’s buying pitchers and stuff, and I just cannot participate.”

But after moving to Manhattan in August, he found that dozens of bars in the city proffer gluten-free beers, albeit none on tap.

“It’s been life changing,” he said.

Scott Kowalski, the district manager at Merchant Du Vin, has been importing Green’s, a line of gluten-free Belgian beers, for about a year and a half.

He said, “My sales in New York and New Jersey are up 20-25 percent over last year.”

Green’s, like other gluten-free beers, is produced in the same way as regular beers, except that it contains some combination of sorghum, millet, buckwheat and brown rice, as opposed to glutinous grains like wheat and barley.

Kahn said, “Gluten-free beer isn’t as good as real beer, it’s usually a little too sweet.  But when you need a beer, it’s better than nothing.”

Ben Dillon is an area sales manger for Union Beer Distributors, a local wholesaler and one of Kowalski’s clients.

He said, “Awareness and quality have certainly gone up in the last two years, and sales have reflected it. “

This may be because an increasing number of Americans have celiac disease.  A recent Mayo Clinic study shows that it is over four times more common that it was 50 years ago.  Doctors believe that it remains undiagnosed, but public awareness is growing.

Dillon supplies regular and gluten-free beer to the Dive Bar, which has two locations in Morningside Heights.  Lee Seinfeld, the owner, ensures that both sites honor their name with unpretentious and nautically themed décor.

He has an affinity for experimentation, which, in the past, has manifested itself in organic wines, Spam burgers, and meatless Mondays.  After briefly carrying gluten-free beers about three years ago, he stopped because there was minimal demand.

Eighteen months ago he began carrying it again in response, he said, to an inquiry from an attractive female.  Since then sales have been steady.  Several customers regularly order the beers, and he estimates that he goes through two cases a month at his location on 96th Street at Amsterdam Avenue.

This is a lot less than the glutinous beers he sells.  As far he knows, no one without celiac disease has ever ordered one.  Still, he believes that there is more demand than there is awareness.

He said, “Sometimes people ask for it, but even now most people just don’t expect to find it in a bar.”

Seinfeld plans to continue offering gluten-free options to his customers, including food specials like macaroni and cheese and cupcakes.

Heathers, a funky dive bar in the Lower East Side, has been serving regular and gluten-free beers to local hipsters for about four years.

Heather Millstone opened the bar shortly after discovering that her numerous health problems were symptoms of celiac disease.  So she adapted her vision of the perfect pub to include gluten-free libations.

She said, “I want to have a great establishment, and to be gluten-free without having to pat myself on the back.”

Several times a year, Millstone hosts celiac disease meet-up groups, for which gluten-free pastries are provided.

Although few bars are as conscious of celiac disease as Heathers, many of them are becoming more aware.  The Ginger Man, a classy artisanal beer lounge that serves the Wall Street crowd, and The Room, a dark New York University bar, both reported consistent sales since they began offering gluten-free beers earlier this year.

For Kahn, and the growing number of people that are consciously living with celiac disease, this something to toast to.

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