Saturday, January 8, 2011

Update: Organic food and butchery

The Hunt for Organic Food in Washington Heights
Ten stops on the 1 train from Columbus Circle is all it takes to experience the different worlds of the haves and the have-nots. One minute I am in Williams and Sonoma's, shiny copper pots and $12 goat milk soap, talking with Brent from Beekman Boys about goats and farming. Twenty five minutes later I am in a "deli" in Washington Heights that sells beer, milk, and sad shriveled heads of lettuce.

I spent Saturday afternoon, and the past five days, doing research on organic food availability. I have a list of 250 stores through out Manhattan that I must visit over the next two weeks. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, my class did a research project to assess the availability of local and organic food at groceries, delis, outdoor food carts, and other establishments that sell fresh food in Manhattan. The first phase was to establish where the establishments are. The second phase, which I am working on now, is to determine what products are sold, such as conventional or organic, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, meat, and a select variety of fruits and vegetables.

What I found in Washington Heights was depressing. The stores each had a particular funky odor to them, the sanitary conditions were questionable, and the selection of fresh fruits and vegetables was limited and often looked weeks old. Out of thirty stores only a handful sold organic milk and one supermarket sold organic eggs. I can't say I am surprised at all. Its hard enough to find good quality fresh produce let alone organic food.

Back at Columbus Circle there is a supermarket that specializes in fresh good quality, and organic, produce, with its time-controlled misting on the so-fresh-you-can-smell-the-dirt vegetables. Of course you prices are higher but is it too much to ask that residents in the 160's have vegetables that aren't on life support?

Who needs health insurance when you can self-medicate?
I come from Canada, and we love our beer just as much as Americans do (except for me, I don't really like beer.) But the last time I checked a Canadian pharmacy you couldn't pick up a six pack to go along with your Prozac. In any New York City Duane Reade you can. Whether I think pharmacies should sell booze is irrelevant. Most retail stores all sort of blend together, the lines that distinguish one store from another have been blurred. Every store has become a one-stop-shop; liquor, drugs, food, and cheap goods from China. What I find truly amazing is the long aisles Duane Reade has dedicated to beer, sometimes even local craft beers. And yet the dairy section is marginal. No organic milk, yogurt, or eggs, the only option is some industrial crap.

I am looking forward to truths and ironies I unearth next week.

Duane Reade advertising its wonderful beer selection

To some this may sound creepy, but I am fascinated by how meat is broken down into tiny neat cuts called culottes, loins, and butts. Since I have mastered the art of breaking down a chicken I have been eager to expand my repertoire.

A few weeks before Christmas I went to Dickson's Farmstand Meats for a trial to see if I want to do an internship there. I spent the whole afternoon vacuum sealing various lamb cuts, pork cuts, and beef cuts. My head spun as I tried to remember all the names of the cuts, most of which I have already forgotten. But I really enjoyed trying to remember them all. The least pleasant part of the job was trying to muscle my way in between hanging split sides of beef and pork, sometimes crouching underneath them, in the walk in cooler to put away the cut in their respective bins.

As I furiously packed meat into bags and sealed them, I stole glances of the two rock-star butchers breaking down pork and beef right behind me. The skill and strength required to break the animal down is impressive, you don't need to be a ravenous carnivore to appreciate the art of butchery.

It was a good experience and I may see if I can return in the future. We will see how well I remember what I learned the first time. I do remember that when I went to bed that night visions of meat cuts danced in my head.