Tag Archive | "NYC"

Freegan foragers feast on city’s waste


By ELLEN LONDON

Veteran Freegans and first-timers dig through garbage bags for produce, dairy and bread during a recent "trash tour."

Veteran Freegans and first-timers dig through garbage bags for produce, dairy and bread during a recent "trash tour."

Every night, a community of eco-enthusiasts committed to living off the consumer grid spreads out across New York City in search of food, clothing and furniture — in the trash.

Known as “freegans” for their non-consumer philosophy — they want things for free —  the group is made up of social activists from all walks of life trying to cut down on corporate waste.

Rebecca Lowery, a Texas native and a freshman at King’s College in downtown Manhattan, was an enthusiastic participant in the “trash tour” held last Thursday. It is a  a monthly event that brings freegans and interested members of the public together to go Dumpster diving. “Some people find it revolting,” Lowery admitted, “but I’m really excited to get tips about how to do it, and hopefully cut down on my grocery bill.”

While the term “Dumpster diving” recalls all of the gritty glamour of launching oneself into a garbage heap, the actual practice is methodical. Subsisting on found food requires vigilance and close observation of the wasted goods left out on the city’s curbs at the close of each business day. A dedicated freegan might make several trips every day, checking and rechecking garbage bins to find all of the staples for a healthy diet: bread, dairy, produce and meat.

Lowery was one of about 20 people who gathered at nightfall for last week’s trash tour in front of the Radio Shack on East 35th Street and 3rd Avenue on the Lower East Side. The tour was Lowery’s first experience with freeganism, although she had heard about the non-consumer lifestyle from her mother, an eco-enthusiast who dabbled in Dumpster diving in Texas.  One of the tour’s three leaders, Janet Kalish, invited everyone to “grab a bag, dig in, and see what you find!”

While some members of the group were initially hesitant, the more seasoned scavengers rushed forward to the pile of shiny black trash bags heaped on a nearby curb. They worked quickly, but carefully — it’s the freegan way to leave the site better than they found it. “And it really is better off,” Kalish pointed out, “because there’s less waste in the bags when we’re done with them.”

From one trash bag, Kalish and a fellow leader recovered blocks of mozzarella cheese, unopened challah bread and a package of hot dogs. “You’ll want to boil those, but they’re perfectly good,” offered a freegan nearby. Lowery was timid at first, but began to fill her bag excitedly after finding an eggplant with which to make her favorite dish: eggplant parmesan.

Food gathered during dumpster diving is often still technically good, but is thrown out on its expiration date.

Food gathered during dumpster diving is often still technically good, but is thrown out on its expiration date.

When the group finished collecting their bounty, Kalish showed them how to reknot the trash bags. The stores relinquish any property rights to expired goods once they discard them on the public sidewalk, meaning that this form of Dumpster diving is legal. Even so, Freegans make a point not to give local storeowners reason to stop them.

After a quick stop at a bagel store up the street, where they dove for plastic  sleeves full of uneaten goodies, the group moved on to Gristedes, a grocery chain known in freegan circles for its waste. Kalish instructed the group to stack all of their findings in front of the store before divvying them up.  “This goes to show how much waste is produced on a typical night in New York City,” she began, gesturing to the towers of packaged muffins, frozen vegetables and organic milk. Most of the items were marked with sell-by expiration dates of Sept. 3, the same day as the tour. “This stuff goes bad at exactly midnight tonight, so eat up!” Kalish joked, in reference to the common misconception that food goes bad precisely on the day of its expiration date.

By law, grocery stores are not supposed to keep goods on their shelves past their expiration labels, suggesting that Gristedes is practicing good business even while creating waste. It’s this corporate conundrum that Kalish and her fellow freegans are trying to correct.

Hungry for a snack after the foraging frenzy, Lowery opened a package of Weight Watchers blueberry muffins.  Her plastic shopping bag was full to the brim with “enough groceries for a month.”

Kalish had filled her two shopping bags and rolling weekender suitcase with enough food for herself and the upcoming “Freegan Feast,” a monthly gathering for freegans from all over the city to cook and eat their found food together.

While environmentalism may have become a national trend, she emphasized that the Freegans’ mission is lasting: “As long as they keep wasting it, we’ll keep on finding it and eating it.”

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Day of the Dead starts at the bakery


By DANIEL WOOLFOLK AND NUSHIN RASHIDIAN

Mexican bakeries all over New York City are preparing pan de muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead, for the Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1. But Panaderia Caotzingo on 76-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is anything but dead during the week before the holiday as customers bustle in and load trays with pan de muerto fresh from the oven. Baker Sergio Rodriguez, 22, makes 270 pieces of dome-shaped ‘’dead bread’’ each day, sized as small as the palm of a hand for $1.50, or bigger than a grown man’s face for $12. The sweet, cinnamon-infused bread is decorated with bits of cooked dough shaped like bones.

Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) has been celebrated by Mexican Indians for centuries. To them, it is the day the dead come back to visit the living–friends, relatives, and loved ones. Often, Catholic families make offerings at the graves of their loved ones, leaving them their favorite food, or even their favorite vice, be it cigarettes or alcohol. But they always leave pan de muerto, says bakery worker Yessica Rodriguez, 23, who is originally from the 300-person Southern Mexican town of San Jose Chilipa.. Rodriquez’s grandmother on her mother’s side died six years ago; each year, her family back home takes the 25-minute walk to the local cemetery.

When they arrive at the cemetery, located between mango trees and a cornfield, they make a velvet shrine and lay offerings of bean and chicken tamales, chocolates and purple flowers—any kind, as long as they’re purple. Her late grandfather gets a single Marlboro Red cigarette. When Rodriguez dies, she says she would like to have an offering of bean and chicken tamales, just like her grandmother. But she’s too busy to think about death right now—she must finish a sale to Cristian Moran, 26, from Guerrero, another state in Southern Mexico.

Moran has lived in the United States for six years. His grandfather died one month ago, but instead of going to Mexico, he sent $200 to relatives back home. He said people don’t celebrate Day of the Dead in New York City as much as they did in his hometown.

Bakery manager Sergio Najera, 54, agrees. Most Mexicans who die in New York City have their remains sent home, he says, so there is little reason to celebrate in local cemeteries. Adults tend to honor the dead privately, and children have another tradition to enjoy: Halloween.

Zeltzin Rosendo, 10, is excited for the 31st of October.

“They give you candy on Halloween and you get to get dressed up,” she says, standing next to the window displays that shows off piles of pan de muerto to people who walk past. She is not a fan of putting food on graves.

“That kind of creeps me out a bit,” she says.

Her brother died in the womb this past year, and this will be the first time they lay an offering to him. They will leave him pan de muerto.

Some people prefer neither Halloween nor a Day of the Dead in America. Queens resident Enrique Jimenez remembers his childhood experience with pan de muerto as he makes a quick visit to the bakery.

“I would buy the bread when I was little, or my mom baked it, but not too much anymore,” he says.

This year he will gather with his cousins and his brother, who is bringing pan de muerto from Mexico.

“This bread has a different flavor,” he says. “The original flavor is from Mexico.”

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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)

By JOEL MEARES and 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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Former rocker sees the light in food art


Painter Robert Box sells his food art paintings on weekends outside the Met.

Painter Robert Box sells his food art paintings on weekends outside the Met. (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Box)

By ELLEN LONDON

It was the way that the early morning sun glinted off his coffee mug that inspired painter Robert Box, 58, to take his art in a new direction. From small-time rock-star and abstract artist, he has become a painter of food.

Born in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park in 1951, Box’s interest in painting stemmed from an early fascination with color. Among his favorite artists is painter Jackson Pollock, whose signature paint-splattered canvases emphasize the marriage of color and motion that Box strives to use in his own work.

Box enrolled in Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in 1969, but cut his education short after the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, when he and some friends dropped out of school in protest against the war in Vietnam. “I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing, doing art? People are dying,’” he recalled.

Without a degree or a job, Box — then known as Bob Racioppo — and friend Artie Lamonica moved into a storefront in Brooklyn and started a punk-rock band, for which Box played the bass guitar. A chance meeting with acquaintances Annie Golden and Johnny “Zeeek” Criscione at a local bar led to the formation of a 9-member band called “The Shirts.” From the beginning, The Shirts sets themselves apart from the era’s army of cover bands with original set lists and a fun, pop-punk sound.

“We did our own stuff during a time when few bands were really doing that,” Box said. After a friend posed as the band’s persistent manager, The Shirts landed their breakthrough gig at CBGB, a popular club on Bowery Street in Manhattan. The band developed a devoted fan-base, which by 1977 included a talent scout from EMI Records.

“They came in, saw potential, and just went with it,” Box said. “We became small-time rock stars, flying all over the place for shows and getting per diem money for food and clothes — whatever we needed.”

5 years and 3 albums later, The Shirt’s punk-rock popularity had dried up. The band’s third album tanked, selling only 10,000 copies. Box and his band returned home to New York, defeated. “We went from having everything taken care of — bills, food, travel arrangements — to starting over. It was a weird transition,” he said.

With little money in his pocket and ample time on his hands, Box returned to painting with a newfound fervor. He continued to develop his colorful, abstract style and hit the New York art gallery scene hoping to show his work somewhere — anywhere — but with little success. He bought Gallery Guide magazine and began working his way down the list, “But no one was interested. It was hard to even get through the door for an actual rejection.” By the time he gave up his search, Box had been turned away from more than 30 art galleries.

Despite the troubles in his professional life, Box’s personal life was thriving; he married and had two children. His rock and roll lifestyle gave way to a busy family life.

Unable to afford studio space, Box took up residence at his kitchen table. Gone were the nights spent painting into the small hours of the morning under artificial light, trying to shake the night-owl schedule he had adopted while on tour. Box was now forced to paint during the “quiet time between 6 and 7 am, before the kids woke up.” The change in timing made all the difference.

One morning while he was sitting in his small kitchen, a blank canvas and a cup of coffee in front of him, Box was overcome by a sudden appreciation for the way the morning light illuminated the edge of his coffee mug. Before the light could shift, he painted the simple scene, producing what he would later recognize as his first piece done in the “Pop Realist” style. “It was such a departure from my earlier abstract work,” he said. “But it was refreshing. I needed a change.”

Box experimented with the effect of natural lighting on food in this recent corn on the cob study.

Box experiments with the effect of natural lighting on food in this recent study of corn on the cob. (Image: Courtesy of Robert Box)

Box began to experiment with all sorts of food and kitchen items — from tomatoes to salt and peppershakers — always positioning his subjects in the same glow of the early morning light. A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998 for a Vermeer exhibit proved to be the final push that Box needed to bring his foodie paintings to the masses.

“I left the exhibit and saw all of the artists outside the front steps [of the Met], and I thought ‘I can do this!’” He began by spreading out a blanket in front of the museum, arranging a few of his pieces right on the sidewalk. His first customers were a pair of Swedish flight attendants, who bought a painting each for a total of $40. Soon, Box invested in an aluminum table on which to display his wares, followed by a pushcart to bring the paintings from his car to his table on weekends.

The colorful paintings, which range in size from 8 inches by 7 inches to 16 inches by 16 inches, have been a hit with tourists and native New Yorkers alike; Box regularly sells to five or six customers per day, and his paintings cost $15 to $500. The success finally stimulated sales in galleries across New York as well, and led Box to rent studio space in the Brooklyn Artists Gym, a cooperative for artists of all mediums.

With his transition from abstract studies to food art, Box has aligned himself with some of the world’s most celebrated painters: Vermeer, Matisse, and Picasso, all of whom created masterpieces featuring food in still-life. “Some people look down at you,” said Box of selling his paintings on the sidewalk from what he calls a “gallery sans roof.” However, he added, most people appreciate it. “It’s accessible. I mean, who doesn’t like food?”

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A vegan shoe store that walks the walk


As New York's only all vegan shoe store, Mooshoes sells footwear and accessories made from hemp, polyurethane and other synthetic materials.

As New York's only all vegan shoe store, Mooshoes sells footwear and accessories made from hemp, polyurethane and other synthetic materials.

By ELLEN LONDON

Kathleen Plate let out an audible yelp when she spotted the punk-rock-inspired stilettos screaming with all of their neon might from the shelf: “They’re here!” She flipped them over instinctively to check for size. “I’ve been following them online,” she explained, almost apologetically.

From atop their 3-inch heels, the already-tall and slender Plate was downright statuesque, a high-fashion goddess. “These are so cute,” she breathed into the mirror. Then, assuming an air that was all business: “I mean, eco-fashion has to hold its own. No one will buy it if it’s ugly!”

The $198 shoes are by Olsenhaus, the über-trendy vegan line from Manhattan designer Elizabeth Olsen. The store is Mooshoes, the also-über-trendy vegan shoe store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Crafted from natural linen and micro-fiber, Olsen’s designs hardly recall the demure hemp flats of vegan shoes past. Stamped on the inner heel is her mantra: “There is Only the Truth.”

Founded by sisters Erica and Sara Kubersky in 2001, Mooshoes claims to be New York City’s only completely “cruelty-free” store. Consistent with the owners’ vegan lifestyle, all of the shoes and accessories are made from faux-leather alternatives, including canvas, hemp and polyurethane microfiber. Prices range from $15 for a pair of gladiator sandals to more than $200 for boots and stilettos. Italian-made for ultimate suppleness, the synthetics are also 80 percent biodegradable.

The Kuberskys adopted vegan diets at their own pace. Erica was distraught when, at the age of 9, she learned of the “truly horrible” processes by which animals are slaughtered for their hides. Sara was a vegetarian throughout high school, but her appetite for fashion prevented her from embracing complete veganism. “She just couldn’t give up leather,” Erica recalled.

Throughout high school and college, the Kuberskys were frustrated by the lack of vegan products and stores from which to buy them. They dreamed of opening their own vegan store, and looked to their native New York for an opening in the fashion industry. “We thought that if our store could succeed in New York, it could succeed anywhere,” said Erica.

That dream came true in 2001, when the Kuberskys opened the original Mooshoes in Gramercy Park, Manhattan. Ironically, the store occupied the space of a former butcher’s shop. “We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into,” Erica recalled, “but we wanted to get our names out there.”

Mooshoes developed a loyal customer base of similarly frustrated vegans. The store was especially popular with young professionals looking for dressy footwear, who Erica said, “wanted to live the vegan lifestyle but didn’t want to make professional sacrifices for it.”

At its current location off of Chinatown’s Grand Street, Mooshoes is tucked inside a cozy enclave of chic boutiques, hipster coffee shops and vegan-friendly restaurants. Chelley Sherman of Babycakes Bakery, the bakeshop just down the street from Mooshoes that is revered by vegans for its agave-sweetened treats, said: “There’s a nice community of vegans around here. We all share tips and food.”  Also a Mooshoes customer, Sherman praised the store for its accessibility: “You don’t have to go in and check the labels. It’s all vegan!”

Zoey is one of four cats who call Mooshoes home. (Photo: Ellen London)

Zoey is one of four cats who call Mooshoes home. (Photo: Ellen London)

Other Manhattan stores have tried carrying small selections of vegan footwear, but with little success. Te Casan, popularized by its line of vegan shoes endorsed by Natalie Portman, closed in November 2008, leaving Mooshoes as one of the area’s only suppliers — and certainly the most extensive. The clean, minimalist space provides ample room for Mooshoes to host events, from launch parties to “Adoption Days” for local animal shelters. There’s plenty of space for the store’s adopted cats — Bowery, Marlow, Rocco and Zoey — to cozy up to the sales racks and greet customers as they come in. Erica stressed that a truly “cruelty-free” lifestyle includes more than just the dietary decisions: “It’s really important to walk the talk.”

Dayan Moore, Plate’s shopping buddy, said, “People think veganism equals ‘dirty hippie,’ but it’s really quite sophisticated.”  A microfiber clutch in one hand — Moore designs eco-friendly handbags — Moore picked up a T-shirt by Herbivore Clothing with the other. “Praise Seitan,” she read off its front, text stamped over a six-point star made of forks. “Now isn’t that just clever?”

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New Yorkers get a taste of Italy at the Feast of San Gennaro


By DANIEL WOOLFOLK

The Feast of San Gennaro in 2007.  Bonnie Natko via Flickr.

The Feast of San Gennaro in 2007. (Photo: Bonnie Natko/Flickr under Creative Commons license)

The famous Mulberry Street is full of games, rides and especially food this week.  There’s even a clown in a dunk tank who, if he doesn’t insult you, might insult your mother.  If your anger and aim holds you through, you can drop him into the water tank.

This is part of the 82nd annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy’s Mulberry Street between Canal and Houston Streets.

More than 1.5 million people are expected to show up during the 10 days of the festival, said Mort Berkowitz, who is running the event.  He estimates about 20,000 people could be at the event at any given time.

One of those people was Anne Grardi. She has white hair and a cane.  She was dancing on the sidewalk on Sunday night with some of her friends to an oldies cover band, Johnny and the Raybands. She was no Fred Astaire with that cane, but she really enjoyed the music at the festival. “We saw a nice little Spanish guy do Frank Sinatra,” she said. “He had the whole crowd standing.”

She had eaten sausage and peppers as well as zeppoles at Sofia’s on Mulberry Street and said the restaurant was surprisingly empty this year — it was standing room only last year.  And even though she noted seeing fewer people, she said she still gets to do one of her favorite festival activities: people watching.

People have been watching people since it began since it began in its first feast in 1926. It had been only a one-day event until 1996, said Chick Pallotta, who has been showing a 10-minute video explaining the history of San Gennaro at the Most Precious Blood Church.  The church has a shrine to San Gennaro,  who served as Bishop of Naples in the second cenury A.D.

And it is just as much about food as it has ever been.

Vincent “Cuzzin Vinny” Patuto sells braciole at the festival and, with his loud raspy voice, makes sure anyone within earshot of his stand knows it.  He said there were about the same amount of people as other years, but fewer people buying his braciole because of the economy.  He should know: he started attending the event about 56 years ago as an 8-year-old and started as a vendor 15 years ago.  He also sells sausages but makes his money selling the bracioles.

“We have not been declared the king of the sausage,” he said. “But we have been declared the king of the braciole.”

He said he’s OK with not being the king of the sausage.

Nick Gennaro Petronella didn’t have either, but the skinny high-school junior did have calzones, potato croquetes, mozzerella pies “and, of course, I had  zeppoles,” he said.

And he wasn’t much of a picky eater.

“I had everything I could find,” he said. “Everything was slamming.”

Julian Armstrong was a little more selective.  The seventh-grader had been there an hour and had a funnel cake, which he said was “good and sweet and fluffy and very appetizing.”

Julian wanted to try brisket, but his mom didn’t let him.

“We had enough to eat already previously before we came here,” she said.

Food wasn’t Julian’s sole objective at the festival.  He had played some of the games and had won a small white teddy bear keychain.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to try his hand with any more game tickets.

“It’s all up to my mom if she wants to buy me any,” he said with a smirk, making sure to check her reaction.

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Not everyone is stopping to smell the produce


Though more than 200,000 people pass through Port Authority on a weekly basis, the new Greenmarket there has received minimal attention.

Though more than 200,000 people pass through the Port Authority Bus Terminal on a weekly basis, the new Greenmarket there has received minimal attention. (Photo: Chasen Marshall)

By CHASEN MARSHALL

Though it’s rush hour in New York, the crowds inspecting the tables at the Tucker Square Greenmarket are sparse. The sidewalks are bustling with activity, briefcases and purses swinging in unison with strides, but few people are stopping to inspect the line of fresh produce or other items available on this cold and windy Thursday afternoon at the open-air market.

“It does get frustrating,” said Ron Binaghi III, who’s at the market on behalf of his parents’ farm, Stokes Farm. “People will maybe slow down a second and see what we have, but most continue on their way. I have some people who I know by name, I know their kids by name – we’ve been here for seven years – and that’s great because we’re all about building that relationship between us and the customer, but lately we’ve been selling just enough to break even.”

Greenmarkets in NYC are going on 33 years of existence in 46 locations, spanning the five boroughs. Though the markets have proven vital in bringing fresh and locally grown products to the marketplace for healthy and food issue-conscious consumers, there’s still a notable divide between the number of buyers at the markets and the local grocery store.

According to their website, Greenmarkets intentionally place themselves in highly trafficked areas for obvious reasons, but according to the people behind the tables, traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into business.

The new market at the Port Authority Bus Terminal is a perfect example. Indoors and therefore safe from inclement weather, the terminal is the world’s busiest with as many as 200,000 passengers passing through on a weekly basis. But on Thursday afternoon there’s only a handful of customers for Choi Wah Wong and her Katchkie Farm coworkers to tend to, and most of the potential customers are lured by the free samples.

“This is what I like to call an incidental market,” said Wong, who’s worked with Katchkie for two months. “People smell the sweet basil or whatever our chef may be cooking up and they may wander over. We have a pretty steady flow of customers, but nothing like Union Square or one of those popular spots.”

The Port Authority market opened for business in early summer, and though it’s one of the few healthy food alternatives in the area – they offer a selection of prepared sandwiches, pastries, fruits and vegetables – they’ve yet to experience much in terms of consistent business.

“We have been getting a lot of ‘where is the bathroom’ questions, but we’re also getting more and more people that notice us and are stopping to check out what we have, and that’s when we try to talk to them and be friendly and answer any questions they may have,” Wong said.

Over at Tucker Square, Ruth Formanek is tightly tucked into her periwinkle North Face coat with a glove on one hand and a bag of produce hanging from the other. She walks unobstructed along the Stokes Farm produce tables, squeezing Heirloom tomatoes and inspecting white onions. She purchases a few items that she intends to include in her dinner.

“I saw Food, Inc. recently and I quit eating meat afterward,” said Formanek, who’s lived in the city for over 70 years. “So this summer I’ve been shopping here a lot more. It isn’t always the best produce, but its better than buying produce that’s been sitting in a basement like at the supermarket.”

While those who utilize the easy access to the local and fresh grown produce seem delighted with the Greenmarkets presence, the room for growth is apparent in the crowds. But the farmers intend to keep coming back as long as the city will let them, according to Binaghi.

“We have a tight knit group of farmers out here and all of us know that a big part of this is just educating the customers. We have schools and restaurants that bring groups through here, so that’s helping. Right now our business is probably half regulars and half whoever walks up. If we can get the locals and regulars up to 85 percent, we’ll all be doing well.”

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Food vendors close to UN General Assembly meeting report losses


Afsal Ahmed makes a sale on his food cart near the United Nations Headquarters during the 2009 U.N. General Assembly Meeting.  (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Afsal Ahmed makes a sale on his food cart near the United Nations Headquarters during the 2009 U.N. General Assembly Meeting. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

By DANIEL WOOLFOLK

As busy as Midtown East was during the 2009 United Nations General Assembly, most people would expect that to be a boom to surrounding businesses. But many street cart vendors said they were losing money.

Jimmy Androu serves Greek food from his food cart, “Jimmy’s Spot,” on 47th Street between Second and Third Avenues about four blocks west of the United Nations Headquarters.

He has been in the food cart business for the past 13 years and has come to expect a lull in business because of street closures.

“I do business with traffic and stuff,” he said.  “The streets are closed, so they don’t let nobody go through.” His street did have traffic going through at that time, but it was interrupted while a  visiting dignitary’s motorcade made a high-profile stop at One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a stone’s throw away.

Androu was reluctant to give out figures, but said his daily loss was more than $100.

“Might be more, even more,” he said. “But I cannot say exactly.”

Mahammed Ibrahim, an Egyptian shish-kabob vendor with an Islamic prayer scar, had to move his location from 49th Street and Lexington Avenue to the southwest corner of 47th Street and Third Avenue, he said in Arabic and broken English. The street was closed because President Obama was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

Ibrahim has been in the United States for six months and usually makes about $200 a day. But for the Thursday of  General Assembly week, he estimated that his income would be about $175.

Raihan Ubdin was also losing money, he said.  The Bangladeshi has been serving Gyros at Kwik Meal for a month on the southeast corner of 43rd  Street and Third Avenue, he said, and he estimated he would make $250 on Thursday.

He said many people from the area buy at his cart, because it is cheaper than a similar sit-down restaurant nearby.

His neighbor, Afsal Ahmed, also a Bengladeshi, was having better luck at his fruit cart.  He said he was staying at about his normal $200 a day.

While he was selling, a long motorcade with a black Cadillac limousine sped by, escorted by cars with full lights and sirens.  Members of a tactical team, armed with assault rifles, followed in a van with an open rear doors.

Ahmed continued with his sales, making about three in roughly five minutes.

“This week is good because First and Second Avenue all closed, that’s why,” he said. “I have no competition.”

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Shock subway campaign warns of the dangers of sugary drinks


By JOEL MEARES

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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